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Bleacher Report – Vikings

What it’s like to be on the wrong end of a quintessential Randy Moss play

By Matthew Coller

When Randy Moss’s turn comes on Hall of Fame induction night, Nick Ferguson will be watching, waiting and wincing.

Ferguson knows the highlight is coming, he just doesn’t know when. He knows he will hear from old friends on social media. He knows his son will be fixed on the ceremony and his boy is going to say, “hey dad, that’s you!”

Though the former New York Jets, Denver Broncos and Houston Texans safety is quick to point out that he isn’t alone — certainly there will be ex-defensive backs across the country watching with hands over their eyes and hoping and praying the Moss highlight reel doesn’t include them — Ferguson’s experience with getting Mossed might be the first clip the Hall of Fame shows. Simply put: He was on the wrong end of the most exciting and eye-popping moment of sheer excellence in Moss’s career.

I’m going to be happy for Randy,” Ferguson said over the phone from Los Angeles. “But I’m going to be like, man, not again. Can we stop showing it!?”

Heading into their matchup with the Denver Broncos on October 19, 2003, the Minnesota Vikings were on fire. Led by Moss’s 29 catches for 515 yards and six touchdowns, the Vikings opened the season with five straight wins.

The Broncos were just as strong, winning five of their first six (and the only loss was by one point). Behind Clinton Portis and a defense that would finish top 10 in points and yards against, Mike Shanahan was keeping Denver relevant in the post-Elway era. Heading into the game, the Broncos’ secondary hadn’t allowed more than 200 yards passing since Week 1.

So they figured with the right strategy, they could slow Randy down.

“Our gameplan going in defensively — even before that play — was, Randy’s been great going down field in the vertical passing game, jumping up, taking the ball out of the air, so we wanted to make sure we took him out of the equation,” Ferguson said.

“We knew any time Randy ran a route… Randy traditionally doesn’t run the short and intermediate routes, his routes were vertical routes,” Ferguson added. “One thing we knew about Randy at that time, if the ball’s not coming to Randy, he’s not running. If you see him, what we call ‘knees and elbows,’ which means he’s digging, he’s running, the ball is coming to him. Our idea was to try to double cover him with the corner and the safety over the top.”

With 12 seconds remaining in the first half, the plan was largely working. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper hit Kelly Campbell for a 47-yard touchdown, but that was the only Vikings score and the two competitive clubs were knotted at seven.

Culpepper had just been sacked by Trevor Pryce, pushing the line of scrimmage back to Minnesota’s own 41-yard line.

Nearly every team in the world would have run the ball and taken it to halftime. But those teams didn’t have Randy Moss.

So the Vikings elected to pass.

“I’m already as deep as I can be and my eyes are on Randy Moss,” Ferguson said. “I notice that Culpepper breaks contain. All the sudden you just hear this gasp from the crowd like, ‘here it comes.’ He stops and just heaves the ball in the air. I’m looking and I’m trying to find Randy Moss. My attention was on Randy.”

Culpepper’s bomb only made it to the 11-yard line, where Moss made a basket catch. The Broncos’ veteran safety, who had solid built a career as a starter by that time despite going undrafted, was there to bring him down.

“I saw the ball was coming short and Randy was coming back to the ball. I’m thinking: ‘I don’t see anyone else going to attack him, so I need to do something,’” Ferguson said. “I run and I grab him and I’m thinking, ‘OK, he made the catch, secure the tackle, take him to the ground, time expires, we go into the half.’”

And then Moss did something Ferguson never would have seen coming in his wildest dreams.

“Low and behold, I see Randy’s helmet is looking back toward where the line of scrimmage was located. If you look at the tape again, you can see him looking at Moe [Williams],” Ferguson said. “He can see everything. I didn’t see it until the last moment until I was pulling him down to the ground. I went from, ‘yeah, I’m pulling him down to the ground,” to, ‘oh no, not this.’”

“As I’m falling to the ground, I see Moe run by and then I hear this loud roar.”

Moss flipped the ball over his right shoulder into the waiting hands of running back Moe Williams, who jogged into the end zone to put the Vikings up 14-7.

“Do you know how demoralizing that was going into halftime?” Ferguson said.

Ferguson knew instantly he was going to be famous.

“I was so pissed. I was so angry,” he said. “We just gave up a touchdown right before the half. It was with Randy Moss involved and I knew instantly…I said, ‘they’re going to run the crap out of this video and my number is in this picture.’”

In the third quarter the Vikings quickly scored two more touchdowns and never looked back, beating Denver 28-20. Moss finished with 10 catches for 151 yards.

To this day, Ferguson, who has been a broadcaster and is set to participate in a coaching internship with the San Francisco 49ers, can’t wrap his head around one thing: Where was everybody else?

“I was blamed because it was like, well, I should have made the tackle. And I’m like: I am making the tackle. I didn’t know he was going to flip the ball to the running back running by, but what about these other guys,” Ferguson said.

He’s gone over it a million times in his head. He can break it down frame by frame without looking.

“Lenny [Walls] the closest person, he stopped completely. He would have seen it. I didn’t see it, but he should have seen Moe Williams running in his direction. Did he think Moe was going to come throw a block? I don’t know. I’m still dumbfounded. I’m going to take that play and put it on Instagram and send it to both Deltha [O’Neill] and Lenny.”

“You see [defensive tackle] Reggie Haywood, he’s rushing, he allows Daunte to break the pocket. I said to him, ‘if you make this tackle, I’m never on this dude’s highlight.’”

One thing that Ferguson didn’t know even 15 years later is that Randy and Moe had concocted the play in practice.

“We had plays like that that we’d do during practice… It never worked in practice,” Willaims said over the phone laughing. “You want to be prepared for those type of situations.”

Ferguson doesn’t remember hearing anything except the crowd’s crescendo in anticipation when the ball went up. He didn’t hear Williams calling for the ball as he hustled down the field.

“I was yelling at him,” Williams said. “I don’t know if he could hear me or whatever. Ya know, Moss is such a heads-up player, it wouldn’t take much for him to hear me and have the presence of mind to know that I was there.”

When Moss puts on the gold jacket, though, Williams said he won’t be thinking as much about his role in an all-time classic Moss play. He’s going to remember the things about Moss that — at the time — the public didn’t know much about.

“There’s stories that nobody knows with Randy like when he brought a young lady that was ill in the locker room,” Williams said. “Those are things he didn’t want out in the media. It was about being there for that young lady. You very seldom ever saw that in the media because he wanted it that way.”

“A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to say they’ve played with a Hall of Famer. Throughout my career I’ve seen a lot of guys I’ve played with put on the gold jacket. It’s special because, seeing someone overcome the things he overcame and he’s still Randy.”

Moss’s former teammate said that despite some of the famous quotes and criticisms, players in the locker room saw the Hall of Famer quite differently than the play-when-I-wanna-play receiver.

“It’s amazing with his God-given ability and talent and Randy had a really, really good work ethic that people didn’t see,” Williams said. “There were times where he’d be going up and down the hill at Winter Park and things like that after practice. They would talk about Cris Carter taking him under his wing, but a lot of that stuff was Randy and things he was doing by himself even when Cris wasn’t out there. Randy was an extremely hard worker.”

As annoyed as Ferguson still is over The Later, he ranks Moss as the toughest receiver he ever faced.

“You knew the ball was coming to him and you still couldn’t stop it,” Ferguson said. “That’s Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant-esque.”

“I remember a play in the game where we jumped with him — it was two of us — and it was like, we jumped and he kept going. We jumped as high as we could and he kept elevating.”

It takes a little convincing, but Ferguson eventually relents and admits that it’s pretty cool to be a part of an all-time great play, even if it wasn’t how he would have wanted.

“In a sense, it is kind of awesome,” Ferguson said. “You practice and play every day for 16 weeks…what were the chances in that particular moment, even knowing you practiced the play, that you would even be thinking that way? That two players would even be on the same wavelength to think that…it’s not just a highlight for Randy, it’s a highlight for Moe as well.”

A highlight he’s sure to hear more about on induction night.

“I’m sure I’m probably going to get some friends from high school who will say, ‘man you know what I just saw?’ And I’ll say, ‘you saw it, I lived it.’”

The post What it’s like to be on the wrong end of a quintessential Randy Moss play appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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