Already burdened with lofty expectations after being selected in the second round of the NFL Draft, rookie Irv Smith Jr. put even more pressure on himself before ever stepping foot on the practice field at TCO Performance Center.
After combing through the current roster earlier this week, and realizing that Kyle Rudolph wears the No. 82 jersey Smith wore in college, the tight end settled on No. 84.
Paying homage to one’s dad is a nice story, but to Vikings fans, No. 84 means something else entirely: That number belongs to one of the greatest pass catchers in franchise, and NFL, history.
It’s always a little questionable when a Vikings player actively chooses to wear the number Randy Moss made famous in seven-plus seasons in Minnesota. Even more questionable is the fact that it’s even an option.
No matter how Moss is perceived for the insouciant disrespect he often modeled off the field, his dominance on it was undeniable. He was a first-ballot inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and one of the best players in franchise history, regardless of the fact that sometimes he only played when he wanted to play.
From 1998-2004, Moss was the living embodiment of straight cash, homie.
It was virtually impossible to defend him on the field one-on-one because he could just as easily outrun a cornerback as he could use his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame to haul in 50-50 balls in the end zone.
Only the legendary Cris Carter is ahead of Moss on the franchise’s records list in receptions (587), receiving yards (9,316) and touchdowns (92).
There was nobody like Randy Moss at the time, and there likely will never be anybody like Randy Moss ever again. Because of that, no Vikings player should be able to wear a No. 84 jersey ever again.
Yes, it was a contentious initial breakup in 2004, when Moss was traded to the Oakland Raiders in the prime of his career. Yes, the improbable reunion was even worse in 2010, when Moss returned for about a month before being released on the heels of a profanity-laced tirade about the catering in the locker room.
“What the (expletive) is this?” Moss screamed at the time. “I wouldn’t feed this (expletive) to my (expletive) dog!”
It wasn’t exactly Minnesota Nice, and perhaps part of why the Vikings still haven’t hung his No. 84 jersey in the rafters at U.S. Bank Stadium. Maybe if he had never, say, pretended to moon Packers fans after scoring a touchdown during a 2004 playoff victory at Lambeau Field.
Maybe if he were a typical “good guy” athlete like, say, Joe Mauer, whose No. 7 will be retired by the Twins less than one season after his retirement last fall.
Since Moss was drafted more than two decades ago, the list of other players to wear a No. 84 jersey for the Vikings is a collection of randos: Aundrae Allison, Michael Jenkins, Bucky Hodges, Chad Beebe.
When Cordarrelle Patterson was given the jersey in 2013, Moss said, “That’s disrespectful to give a rookie my number. I think from a professional standpoint, I did make that number. And for them to give him that number, he hasn’t proven anything yet.”
Yes, it was another example of Randy Moss being Randy Moss, but his honesty among players in a league that doesn’t exactly promote honesty from players was then and is now admirable. He also had a point. The fact any of those names can be mentioned in the same breath as Moss is reason enough for the Vikings come to their senses and retire No. 84.
It’s absurd that it hasn’t happened already.
Only six Vikings numbers have been retired: Fran Tarkenton’s No. 10, Mick Tingelhoff’s No. 53, Jim Marshall’s No. 70, Korey Stringer’s No. 77, Cris Carter’s No. 80 and Alan Page’s No. 88. All deserving, but none was better at what he did than Moss, or more important to the franchise.
Why hasn’t Moss been the afforded the same respect? Because he wasn’t Minnesotan enough? His job wasn’t to be nice. His job was to catch the football, and he did that better than anyone else.
Irv Smith Jr. could become a dominant NFL player someday; he just shouldn’t be allowed to do it in a No. 84 jersey.