As the opponents in Super Bowl XLVII took shape Sunday, it wasn't difficult for an NFC North blogger to envision a long-ago time when one of the most prominent veterans on each team held polar corners of the Minnesota Vikings' locker room.
In 1998, the Vikings drafted receiver Randy Moss (No. 21 overall) and center Matt Birk (No. 173). In 2004, their differences surfaced publicly and helped explain the Vikings' decision to trade Moss to the Oakland Raiders. Eight years later, one of them will be a first-time Super Bowl champion.
We can't really say that Moss and Birk will face each other Feb. 3 in New Orleans. As a receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, Moss isn't likely to be on the field at the same time as Birk, the Baltimore Ravens' center. It's unlikely they'll get close enough to exchange pleasantries, even if they wanted to.
The last documented time they spoke was in the visitor's locker room at FedEx Field on Jan. 2, 2005. Frustrated with an impending loss to the Washington Redskins, one that left the Vikings needing help to back into the playoffs, Moss stalked off the field with two seconds remaining as the Vikings lined up for an onside kick. Enraged, Birk confronted Moss in the locker room.
In interviews later, Birk said his tirade could be repeated only with "a lot of bleeps" and made clear: "I didn't like it. I made sure to get to the locker room quick to talk to him about it. And hopefully, it won't happen again."
It never did, but that was because Moss had only two games remaining in his first stint with the franchise. About an hour after the Vikings were knocked out of the playoffs by the Philadelphia Eagles, a few reporters were loitering in the Vikings' locker room. Birk approached Moss and said, "Do you have a minute?" Moss looked away, put his headphones over his ears and walked out of the locker room.
"Guess not," Birk said.
A few months later, then-owner Red McCombs ordered Moss traded. That day, I spoke with Birk about the move. He agreed it would be difficult to replace Moss' play-making skills but hoped the locker room would be less chaotic. Birk had heard enough from Moss' caretakers, who believed he would mature over time, and as we spoke, he quoted a line from a magazine he was reading:
"You can stroke a dog's ear the wrong way all you want, but ultimately it just goes back to the way it was meant to be."
I asked Birk if Moss was the "dog" in that quote. He said he had just happened to see it as we spoke. Birk is a Harvard graduate and not prone to random thoughts, so I guess we can all draw our own conclusions on that one.
Look, I don't think the Moss-Birk storyline will rank among the top 10 that reporters pursue in the next two weeks. It shouldn't be. The Vikings didn't trade Randy Moss because of Matt Birk. More simply, Birk was a public representative of those in the organization who had grown weary of his act. And by all accounts, Moss has toned down his act considerably with the 49ers.
Frankly, what's most notable about their inclusion in Super Bowl XLVII is that both are still in the league at all.
Moss, 35, was out of the game last year before returning in a part-time role with the 49ers. Birk, 36, seemed to be taking years off his career as he played with multiple sports hernias that forced surgery on both hips. He missed four starts in 2004 and all of 2005 as a result, but he has started 112 consecutive regular-season games since.
I'm guessing that bygones are bygones for this pair. Their histories, however, will provide a layer to the Super Bowl that's worth noting. And so we have.