Points of no return

[Editor's note: As longtime NFL wide receiver and ESPN analyst Cris Carter enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of its Class of 2013, ESPN.com shares an excerpt from Carter's new book.]

Excerpted from "Going Deep" by Cris Carter. Copyright © 2013 by CC80 Enterprises, Inc. Published by Hyperion. All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 9: Randy, T.O., and the Points of No Return

I always tell people the same thing when they bring up my four seasons with Randy Moss: I never saw him play bad football during the time we spent as teammates. He kept himself in tremendous shape. He devoted himself to improving his craft every year. He also never stopped producing jaw-dropping numbers or game-changing plays.

What I did notice after Randy's spectacular rookie season was a shift in how he conducted himself. Case in point: An NFC divisional playoff game held in January 2000, the end of his second year. We were playing the Rams in St. Louis and everybody expected an exciting contest. We still had most of the key components from an offense that set a league record for points scored a year earlier. The Rams were doing amazing things of their own during that 1999 season, so much so that their aerial attack had been dubbed "the Greatest Show on Turf."

The game didn't disappoint, either. They hit us with a couple of long touchdown passes to go up 14-3 in the first quarter. We came back with two scores of our own to lead 17-14 at halftime. After that, the game got away from us, with the Rams building a 35-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter. That's when frustration got the best of Randy.

Randy was already on his way to a monster game -- he would finish with 9 receptions for 188 yards and 2 touchdowns -- but he kept complaining that the Rams defensive backs were holding him. Since the officials never threw any flags in those situations, Randy's anger simmered as the game went on. Then, after a pass play in the fourth quarter, Randy jogged to the sideline to take a break. I knew he was tired because he'd been running long routes all game. I just didn't realize he'd reached his limit.

As Randy sipped on a water bottle, he noticed one of the officials sprinting by him on the field. Instead of simply accepting that he was having one of those days, Randy took things a step further: He pointed the water bottle at the official and squirted it at him. Randy did it so quickly that most people probably didn't even see it happen initially.

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the evidence to appear. I was jogging off the field when I saw the incident on the video screen inside the Rams' stadium. At that point, I knew this wasn't going to be good for Randy and I'm not talking about the ramifications on that one game only. I was thinking about his reputation at large.

Randy had spent his rookie season trying to prove how much his character issues shouldn't have impacted the way teams thought about him entering the 1998 draft. With one ill-fated decision, he had given his skeptics all the ammunition they needed to say, "I told you so." It really didn't matter that the officials didn't penalize Randy in that particular moment. The NFL hit him with a $40,000 fine (which was later decreased to $25,000), with the court of public opinion weighing in shortly thereafter.

It was a huge mistake for Randy to open himself up to such predictable criticism but he didn't care. His job was to catch passes and make big plays, not earn points for congeniality. In Randy's eyes, that official was keeping him from doing his work. Given how vicious a competitor he was, he probably felt justified in "attacking" somebody who stood in the way of his goals.

The most disconcerting aspect of Randy's disinterest in public perception was that he didn't understand how it could hurt him. Randy Moss was literally the biggest, baddest wide receiver on the planet by the end of the twentieth century. There were plenty of other standouts at the position, including Indianapolis's Marvin Harrison, Buffalo's Eric Moulds, and St. Louis's dynamic duo of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. But nobody had the ability to draw cameras to him like Randy did in the late 1990s.

Part of his appeal was obvious: The man had breathtaking ability. The other factor was easier to miss if you weren't paying attention to how the league was changing at the turn of the century. The 1990s had been filled with future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks like San Francisco's Steve Young, Denver's John Elway, Buffalo's Jim Kelly, Miami's Dan Marino, and Dallas's Troy Aikman. All those players -- and other notable signal-callers -- would be out of the league by the end of the 2000 season. Green Bay's Brett Favre was the lone holdover from that golden age of passers.

It would be impossible for the league to lose that much star power at its premier position and not feel the collective impact of it. The networks still needed offensive stars to build their broadcasts around every weekend. The coaches still needed playmakers to make life easier on the younger quarterbacks who were coming up in the game. The stage for receivers had never been more wide open. Regardless of whether players like Randy wanted to embrace celebrity, it was coming in ways that no one could have ever predicted.

I could sense the shift in our own locker room when it came to Randy's power. Things really started to change once we made Daunte Culpepper, our first-round pick in the 1999 draft, the starting quarterback. Randy and Daunte immediately formed the kind of close bond that was predictable for two young men living their dreams in the league. At thirty-four, I saw them as the future of that franchise, the players who wielded the most influence in the locker room.

"A lot of people on the outside thought Randy was a bad locker room guy, but he was a great teammate," said former Vikings defensive end Lance Johnstone. "He had a lot of charisma. He was funny. A lot of young and old guys would follow his lead. People had no idea how hard he prepared. I'm talking about a star who you would see in the off-season working on speed drills when nobody else was around."

Randy was very instrumental in getting Daunte up to speed with the offense. We both helped Daunte understand the concepts that Denny had preached for years, and Randy did a great job of not whining about the football when it didn't go his way. That's something I always impressed upon him when he first came into the league. If you're going to beg for the football, make sure you do it with some detail.

From my experience, the easiest way to get passes called in your direction was to speak to coaches conceptually. I would go off at times, but I wouldn't simply scream about the quarterback missing me. Instead, I'd tell the coaches which plays might work against whatever coverages the defense was using. Randy usually operated the same way. If he was demanding the football, he was often talking to the quarterback or the coaches in a language they understood.

"Randy's football IQ was very high," Johnstone said. "I remember the coaches telling me how they'd prepare all week for an upcoming game but they never really knew what would happen with Randy. He'd always have at least two guys around him and sometimes it would be three. But we wouldn't know that until the game started. Randy was a big part of the adjustments the offense made after the first quarter and at halftime. He'd come back, tell the coaches what he was seeing, and help them figure out how to attack it."

Randy also wasn't afraid to speak his mind more, regardless of whom he was addressing. I remember a moment during that 2000 season, when I ran a route near the sideline while trying to catch a pass from Daunte. At the last second, I saw the safety flying toward me and the ball skipped off my fingers as I went to the turf. When I returned to the huddle, Randy said, "We needed that play. We needed you to make that catch."

I could feel my body tense before he even finished that last sentence. In my mind, the ball wasn't catchable and the defender easily could've decapitated me. I calmed down a few moments later after realizing Randy was expecting the same accountability from me that I'd asked from our other teammates. I was as open to being called out as anybody else, so I eventually said, "You're right."

Randy would've had a different image if more people had seen that side of him. He didn't carry himself like a conventional leader but he knew how to lead in his own way. His problem was perception. Whenever people start looking for bad in you, they're bound to find something. In Randy's case, the hunt had been on from the moment he entered the NFL.

The 2000 season should've been one more brilliant year in what was becoming a Hall-of-Fame résumé for Randy. Daunte's presence gave us a strong-armed, accurate passer who would fit perfectly with Randy's ability to go deep. Randy became the youngest player in league history to reach 3,000 receiving yards and 45 touchdowns in his career. Even though the New York Giants destroyed us in the NFC championship game that season -- we lost 41-0 -- it was hard to argue against Randy being the most dangerous offensive weapon in football.

Instead, it became the year when everything changed for Randy. People remembered that water bottle incident. They remembered how brutally the Giants manhandled us that season. What those same people often ignore is how quickly Randy became linked to another rising star wide receiver in the NFL ... and how the entire image of the position pivoted on their electrifying talents and enigmatic personalities.

• • •

I first met Terrell Owens following the 2000 season. We ran into each other at a celebrity basketball game and I immediately extended my hand to introduce myself. I'd never met the wideout who had become such a talented receiver in San Francisco that the team decided against re-signing Jerry Rice after that year. I also had no idea how vindictive Owens could be whenever he felt slighted.

As soon as I offered to shake his hand, he smirked and lowered his gaze. At first, I didn't know what to say. Then I shrugged my shoulders and kept on walking. It wasn't like my feelings were hurt. If Owens didn't want to be respectful, I didn't need to make nice with him.

It wasn't until a few minutes later that the organizer of the event explained what had happened. Apparently, Owens was still miffed about a postgame interview I'd done after the 49ers beat us in a playoff game back in 1998. After the loss, I'd told reporters that our defense had let us down that day. The 49ers had played without Jerry -- he was sidelined with a knee injury -- and we still let Owens and J. J. Stokes, another young receiver, make plays against us. "I can understand if it was Jerry out there," I said that day. "But those other guys doing that doesn't make any sense."

From that point on, Terrell Owens -- who eventually became known as "T.O." -- and I were never meant to be friends, which was fine with me. He wasn't that good when I made that comment after that 1998 playoff game, and he became even more problematic as his star rose. He deserves all the credit in the world for turning himself into a Pro Bowl-level talent after entering the league as a lightly regarded third-round pick in that famed 1996 draft. But no other receiver did more to taint the position than Owens did in the prime of his career.

It wasn't like he gave any indication of being that way, either. When he joined the 49ers, he was a shy, hardworking kid from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, a player who called his coaches "sir" and longed to follow in Jerry's footsteps. Owens excited most people back then with his size (6'3" and 226 pounds) and athleticism (he also played on his college basketball team). "He really had humble beginnings," said Steve Mariucci, who coached the 49ers from 1997-2002. "He didn't get recruited much out of high school and he was a late bloomer in college. He was a third-round pick mainly because he had some qualities that made him intriguing."

Still, Owens's potential was undeniable from the start. "I remember [former 49ers safety] Tim McDonald and myself pulling T.O. aside after his first minicamp," said Merton Hanks. "We told him he needed to get with Jerry and mimic everything he does. We told him he was going to be great and that he needed to prepare for what that would be like."

Owens surely dreamed about what that stature could do for his life. His grandmother had isolated him from other children while growing up in Alexander City, Alabama. He didn't know his father lived across the street from him until he was eleven and that was only because Owens had befriended a girl who turned out to be his half sister. Other kids also teased Owens because of his skinny physique and dark complexion. In other words, this wasn't a well-adjusted child who was destined to play nice with others once he grew up.

In fact, the most noteworthy aspect of Owens's background wasn't his brutal experience with loneliness and poverty. It was his relentless desire to be a celebrity. When he was a young pro, you'd hear stories about Owens perfecting his dance moves and chiseling his body in the 49ers weight room during late-night workout sessions. He knew exactly how he wanted to address the world once the spotlight eventually found him.

Owens's first big break came when Jerry sustained a severe knee injury in the 49ers' season-opening loss to Tampa Bay in 1997. Suddenly, the no-name kid who hadn't played much was starting -- and producing -- for one of the NFL's glamour teams. When Jerry returned the next season, there were questions about how Mariucci would accommodate him and his two younger receivers, Owens and Stokes. They had done a decent job of compensating for Jerry's absence, but Mariucci had only two starters on his offense.

Owens ultimately eased the burden on his head coach with an impromptu conversation in training camp. "He came up to me and said he was okay with being the third receiver," Mariucci said. "He said Jerry could have his old job back and that J.J. had been starting longer. He was good with being the third guy even though he'd caught around sixty passes the year before. He said he'd get his touches. That's the kind of guy he was. He was still Terrell Owens then."

Owens made such steady progress in his first four NFL seasons that the 49ers knew they faced an important decision. Jerry was nearly forty years old and Owens clearly had Pro Bowl potential. So after the 1999 season, the team tried to lock Owens into a long-term deal while he was a restricted free agent. He was making $280,000 in the final year of his rookie deal and he was due a hefty raise. The problem was Owens's sense of what a fair pay increase was at that time.

The 49ers never got anywhere with the initial negotiation because Owens made such outlandish demands for his new deal. The team responded by using a franchise tag on him, a move that was rarely used on restricted free agents but still guaranteed him a salary based on the average pay for the five highest-paid receivers in the league. In other words, Owens would go from making $280,000 to somewhere around $6 million. But as Mariucci said, "Apparently, that wasn't going to be good enough."

"To me, that's when all the problems started," Mariucci continued. "When we couldn't get the deal done, that's when he started banging heads with everybody: me, the owners, the executives. I wasn't in the room when he signed his deal but I was told that he wasn't happy. He just signed the contract, pushed the papers across the table, and walked out. He didn't say thank you. He didn't shake hands. He was just angry. I really think that's when he became T.O."

Whatever anger T.O. felt that day, he didn't let it impact his play on the field. In 2000, he had career highs in receptions (97) and yards (1,451), as well as 13 touchdowns. He set a league record by catching 20 passes in a game against Chicago. He also produced one of the most bizarre touchdown celebrations in the history of the NFL.

Now I'll be the first to say that I had no problems with trash-talking or demonstrative antics on a football field. Having fun was supposed to be part of the game. But when Owens scored 2 touchdowns during an early-season win at Dallas, what I saw wasn't a player having a good time. Instead, it was a receiver crossing a line in ways that could've touched off a brawl.

When Owens scored his first touchdown on a short pass from Jeff Garcia in the second quarter, he raced out of the end zone and straight to the star at midfield inside Texas Stadium. Once there, he raised his hands to the sky, leaned his head back, and peered through the hole in the ceiling that was supposedly designed so "God could watch His favorite team play." That moment so enraged the Cowboys that running back Emmitt Smith retaliated in his own way. When he scored later in that quarter, he raced to midfield as well, slammed the football down, and glared at Owens.

I'd seen a lot of crazy things in my career. What was happening in Dallas that day ranks right near the top of the list. It became even more surreal when Owens caught a short fade from Garcia on another score and then returned to the star for an encore. This time Cowboys safety George Teague charged behind him and blasted Owens. Niners guard Derrick Deese then tried to hit Teague but stumbled and whiffed. While all this was going on -- with Teague's teammates holding him back -- Owens strolled back to the star, raised his arms again, and posed briefly before officials pushed him back toward his sideline.

If you know anything about football, you know what Owens did was uncalled for and extremely bad for the game. A matchup between the Cowboys and 49ers used to be must-see television in the early 1990s. Now it looked like something that belonged on a late-night episode of pro wrestling, all because of the ego of one misguided receiver. It took a lot of nerve for Owens to pull that stunt. Even worse was the fallout afterward.

I'm not talking about the $8,000 fine Owens received from the NFL. I'm talking about the perception of the position. That day started a serious shift in the way people thought about receivers. It used to be that one mention of the 49ers resulted in fond memories of Rice catching passes from Joe Montana and Steve Young. After Owens's antics in Dallas, a new image of receivers was forming in the public eye. The message Owens was sending at midfield of Texas Stadium that day couldn't be ignored: He was saying the moment was all about him.

The display angered Mariucci to the point that he suspended Owens a game without pay and banned him from the team for the week. "That was when all communication between us ceased for a while," Mariucci said. "I was the enemy." It wasn't hard to see why Mariucci stumbled into that position. Normally, the owner or the general manager punishes a player for crossing the line. In this case, the 49ers' John York and GM Terry Donahue discussed their decision with Mariucci and then left him to give the news to T.O. Making matters worse, Donahue lessened the suspension after rethinking the issue a few days later, and Owens only lost half a week's pay while sitting out the next contest.

Not only was Mariucci left to play the bad cop after all was said and done, but he also was part of a franchise that now was unwilling to take a hard stance with its biggest star. Owens surely was smart enough to see the advantage he had gained in the midst of that controversy. In a profession where toughness is considered the most valuable of commodities, Owens had recognized how soft his bosses could be when forced to take action.

"Some of what happened with T.O. goes back to the NFL encouraging guys to get attention," said former 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. "After T.O. ran to the star, he actually started reaping benefits from it. It got replayed over and over and people noticed him. It went from being a negative to being a positive."

The sad part about all that was Owens was only getting started. The 49ers were going through a major transformation that season and Jerry knew he was on his way out. He would wind up in Oakland a year later, where he hoped to continue his career working alongside another aging star, Tim Brown. Meanwhile, the 49ers -- the most storied franchise of the previous two decades -- were about to be placed in the hands of a destructive force.

I knew plenty about transitions during that time because, like Jerry, I was going through my own in Minnesota. I would enjoy my last winning season in the NFL during the 2000 season. I also would be facing my own tough choices about where I took my career after that point. After all those years of fighting for respect, I didn't have to tussle any longer. I only had to savor what was left of my ride in what seemed like a rapidly changing world.

• • •

The 2000 season may have ended on a sour note -- especially after we started the year 11-2 -- but it was special for me because of one significant achievement: my 1,000th reception. It came on November 30 of that year, when we faced the Detroit Lions in the Metrodome. The team had made a point of getting me the record as soon as possible and it happened exactly that way. Daunte hit me with a 4-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, making me the second receiver after Rice to have 1,000 career catches.

The game stopped at that point as teammates mobbed me. A camera crew followed me to the sidelines, where I found Melanie, Duron, Monterae, and other family members. The sheer number alone didn't make that milestone meaningful to me. It also was special because catching that many balls took a lot of hard work and good fortune.

As much as teams were throwing in my day, the NFL still hadn't reached the point where 40 to 50 attempts in a game were common. The most aggressive teams were passing about 30 to 35 times a game, meaning there were fewer opportunities for everybody who made his living catching passes. If you played on a team with as many talented receivers as we had, the odds didn't favor your chances of making that kind of history.

To be honest, I never saw myself catching that many passes. I thought my career would be great and I believed people would see the depth of my talents. But it was impossible to see such numbers coming over the course of a career. Just to say I shared the same company as Jerry Rice -- who was light years ahead of everybody statistically -- made me proud to know I'd been that consistent during my time in the NFL.

The writing was pretty much on the wall for me by then. I'd enjoyed my thirty-fifth birthday only five days earlier and I had a couple of years left on my contract. When we lost the NFC championship game to the Giants two months later, I was even more aware of how fast the door was closing on my career. I'd had two shots at the Super Bowl in a three-year window. There was no way I was going to get any closer to a title than that.

Walking away from that defeat, I had far more peace with that reality than I expected. It was just a bad game, one that got away from us the moment it started. That was the hard truth of it. We'd done our best and we had to live with it. By that point in my life, I'd accepted that you have far less control over things than you'd like to believe.

Unfortunately, that was a lesson Randy hadn't yet learned. The 2001 season started with him earning his own place in history: He became the highest-paid wide receiver ever when owner Red McCombs gave him an eight-year, $75 million contract extension. Randy's agent had hoped to break the trend of quarterbacks being the highest-paid players in the game and he definitely got his wish. Randy's contract told the world that receivers could be the most important weapon in anybody's offense.

The problem was that 2001 turned out to be a terrible time for Randy to back up that message. The first big blow to our high expectations came during training camp, when Korey Stringer, our right tackle, died of complications related to heat stroke. Randy and I had actually just finished catching balls from a Jugs machine when Korey passed out after a morning practice. He had been working on some blocking techniques a few yards away from us and had seemed perfectly fine as we walked toward the locker room.

The next thing we knew, we were at a local hospital in Mankato, Minnesota, praying for Korey's survival. It was a crazy time because we were concerned about Korey and also trying to reach his wife, Kelci, at their home in Atlanta. Since Randy was extremely close to Kelci, he spent most of his time tracking her down. He eventually arranged for a private plane to pick her up and fly her to Minneapolis.

None of that mattered in the end, though. Korey died that night and it devastated the entire team. Korey was easily one of the most popular players on our roster. He often invited teammates over to his home to play video games, enjoy a barbecue, or just hang out. You couldn't even walk past his locker without seeing his trademark smile creep across his face.

Korey's death was especially painful for Randy, because he suddenly found himself in a rare position: He had to explain the tragedy to the team and the media. Denny had been asking Randy to be more of a leader, and dealing with something like this came with the job. The problem was that Randy wasn't equipped for a moment as traumatic as that. I had dealt with a teammate's death early on in my career, when a good friend, former Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Jerome Brown, died in a car crash in 1992. And I had dealt with deaths since. But Korey was one of the few close friends Randy actually had in the league.

Randy's bond with Korey made it all the more difficult when Kelci filed a $100 million lawsuit against the Vikings for not doing enough to prevent her husband's death (that suit started a long legal battle that end in 2009, when the NFL reached a settlement with Kelci). "Randy has never told me this, but I believe that entire situation affected how he looked at management," Johnstone said. "He started to put up a wall at that point. Korey was Randy's best friend on the team and a lot of things were said after he passed. It was alleged that the Vikings could've done better when he started complaining about his [health] problems, and I know his wife wasn't happy about how the team responded after his death. Randy wound up in that camp as far as fighting the team."

Korey's death started a major downward spiral for us that season. That moment was emotional enough, but then terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City a few weeks later. We eventually went 5-11, with McCombs firing Denny before the season finale. Randy also missed the Pro Bowl (despite catching 82 passes and scoring 10 touchdowns) and gave the world a quote that would follow him the rest of his career.

It was in late November of that season when Sid Hartman, an iconic, old-school reporter in Minneapolis, asked Randy some questions about the season. By that point, people had been criticizing Randy for not playing hard on every down. I never had a problem with Randy's effort -- nobody goes all out for an entire football game -- but I sensed the controversy building over the issue. Randy, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to the entire matter.

From what I heard, the conversation between the two didn't only focus on Randy's effort. It also included references to the roles Denny and I had played in his early success in the league. I don't know if Sid asked Randy if we were responsible for helping Randy blossom or if Randy simply heard it that way. Regardless, Randy took the line of questioning as a subtle slap in the face. And whenever he felt slighted, he was going to come back at somebody full force.

This is what ultimately ran in Sid's column in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on November 22, 2001:

"I play when I want to play," Moss said. "Do I play up to my top performance, my ability every time? Maybe not. I just keep doing what I do and that is playing football. When I make my mind up, I am going out there to tear somebody's head off. When I go out there and play football, man it's not anybody telling me to play or how I should play. I play when I want to play, case closed."

Randy made other comments in the story, but all anybody heard were those first seven words. "I play when I want to play." On a sheet of paper, the quote wasn't as visually disturbing as Terrell Owens preening on the star in Texas Stadium, but it definitely played that way in some circles. Randy already had one major strike against him because of his background. The second one came when he squirted the official with a water bottle in that playoff game. Once he gave Sid that statement, it was game on. Randy, to many people, was becoming exactly the person teams feared on draft day back in 1998.

Of course, I saw the problem immediately, as did Denny. We knew Randy was just irritated by the perception that he wasn't getting ample credit for his own success. In his eyes, he was thinking the media assumed that Denny and I had propped him up and made him a Pro Bowler. What Randy was trying to say was "I did all this work. Don't take what I did and give the credit to those guys." What people ultimately heard him articulate was "I can do whatever the hell I want around this place."

If Randy was more media savvy -- or actually cared about the media at all -- he could've clarified what he was trying to say. If he was a little bit older, he could've hidden his disdain for the question and diplomatically said that he wouldn't have gotten where he was without the help of others. Instead, Randy did what he usually did when he sensed a challenge. He dug in and vowed to fight it until the end.

I tried talking to him. Denny tried talking to him. The more we explained how bad the situation looked, the more he refused to take it back. Once Randy saw it as a reason to prove people wrong, I gave up. This was a huge turning point in his career, one that everybody recognized except him.

Even our owner -- the same man who'd made Randy the wealthiest receiver ever -- was aghast. "When I heard Randy's words, I was angry, hurt, sick to my stomach," Red told Sports Illustrated. "I knew he'd get tagged with it forever, because that's the way it works, and that's the way it should be. It will never go away, and Randy understands that. He's paid for it, and he'll pay for it the rest of his life."

What most people outside of the Vikings franchise didn't realize was that Red had another reason to be upset with Randy. Two weeks before that interview with Sid, shortly after a loss at Philadelphia, we had boarded our team buses to head back to Minneapolis. We usually have sponsors -- or guests of the franchise -- travel with us, and on this day, some decided to sit in seats reserved for players. I don't know if they consciously did that but Randy didn't care. He apparently cursed them out, telling them to find a different bus to ride.

This time, Denny had to do damage control since I hadn't been around when the incident happened. As soon as the story leaked to the press in December, Denny was on his radio show to explain his perception of the incident. The team had fined Randy $15,000 for his behavior, but Denny also clarified that this was a two-way street. Though Randy could've been more respectful, the sponsors also shouldn't have been on the bus.

Not that it really made a difference. The public was getting a different view of Randy, one that was becoming ever harder to change. He always had an edge to him, but the longer he played in the league, the more blatantly disrespectful he became in certain situations.

In some cases, like the Rams game, it had more to do with him being in a foul mood at a lousy time. It other cases, it was simple defiance that caused him so much trouble. "I always thought the effort thing with Randy was overblown, but he does have some real issues with authority," Brian Billick said. "It's not that he's a bad guy. I think it's more that he's misunderstood. He's always been the best whenever he's stepped onto a field or a court. That's going to give you a unique perspective on life."

"Randy didn't do himself any favors," said Matt Birk. "That's what always upset me. I knew he was a better guy than what he was showing. We loved having him on the team, but the public would kill him. I felt bad about that, but he made it clear that he didn't care what people thought. That's admirable but it also can be a detriment."

It's unlikely that many people outside of Minnesota gave Randy the benefit of the doubt after his comments to Sid. The situation with the sponsors only added to his growing reputation. What was obvious was that Randy had reached a point of no return. Great stats or not, he would be a bad boy for life. The only question -- in the eyes of many critics -- was who was apt to become the bigger headache: Randy Moss or Terrell Owens?