CHARLOTTE — When Randy Moss is not watching his son play college football at North Carolina State, he’s training for his next Spartan race or hosting a CrossFit bootcamp in Charlotte. And on Saturday nights, he goes up to Bristol, Conn. to spend his Sunday mornings serving as a talking head on ESPN’s revamped Sunday NFL Countdown and then travels to wherever Monday Night Football is for the pre- and post-game shows.
Based on his busy schedule, one can assume that Moss is thriving in life after the NFL, right? Not quite; the 14-year NFL veteran bluntly says that he stays this busy because he misses football. He could have kept playing after 2012—and he arguably could still play today—and he’s trying to fill that void in some way.
“It’s just keeping me busy. When you’re sort of bored with life you really start to have negative thoughts and think about negative things,” Moss told SI.com Monday night in ESPN’s trailer before the Buccaneers-Panthers game. “For the most part I try to stay busy and that’s a good thing. Fitness, health I’ve always been into that no matter what people have said about me. Now that I’m older, physically, I’m in the best shape of my life.
“It’s seeing and hearing people after retirement, early death, early sickness. There’s a lot of things that can come from this game of football and not everything is positive.”
Last year when Moss was an analyst for FOX, he said on a pregame broadcast that he still had an itch to play. He last suited up in the 2012 season for the 49ers where he caught 28 passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns.
That itch, he said, will never go away.
“But to be able to officially let it go, it took about a good year or two to finally let it go. And it’s hard,” Moss said. “And that’s why I try to stay busy. You get depressed. You do get depressed.
“When you look at the game of football and what it’s done for different people’s families and where it has taken them, there is a certain type of loyalty to the game. … When you look at the game and respecting the game, not cheating the game, little things like that, the game has always been good to me. Now that I’m older, I look at the game and still miss it. But at the same time now is a time for me to give back and teach the game.”
Since retiring, Moss started the Randy Moss Football Academy in Charlotte, and he’s worked with a range of players, from high schoolers to Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor. Last year he collaborated with well-known CrossFit trainer Emily “Breeze” Ross to start a bootcamp twice a week. Hundreds of people could show up to the Charlotte facility for free and train with one of the greatest receivers of all time.
His duties for Monday Night Football only allow him to attend bootcamp once a week, but Moss maintains that at age 39, he’s still got it. Eligible for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018, there’s no chance of him coming back to the field. But Moss believes there’s no doubt he could still go out and be productive in a 16-game season. How productive?
“Where I’m at closing on 40 years old,” Moss said, “I think being able to use me inside the 40-yard line for my height, still my skill set, still have quickness, I think my speed has left a little bit. But my skillset, 16 games, I’d say anywhere between nine to 12 or 13 touchdowns. Somewhere in there.”
Thirteen touchdowns would have placed Moss in a tie for fourth in the league last season. And only five players age 35 or older in the post-merger history of the league have caught nine or more touchdowns in a season. But he wouldn’t be Randy Moss if he weren’t confident in his abilities.
After three years with FOX as an analyst, Moss joined ESPN this season as the Worldwide Leader overhauled its Sunday broadcast. Moss, Charles Woodson, Matt Hasselbeck and Trent Dilfer subbed in for Tom Jackson, Mike Ditka, Keyshawn Johnson and Cris Carter.
ESPN pounced on Moss when his contract with FOX was up, knowing it could offer Moss a bigger role at the network than FOX could. FOX’s pregame has been set for years with Howie Long, Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson and Michael Strahan, and there wasn’t anywhere else for Moss to go.
Senior producer Seth Markman said he leaned on Moss for his TV experience. Whereas Hasselbeck and Woodson were coming right off the field and onto the set, Moss and Dilfer had the experience that could make it work.
“I love his voice. When I saw him on FOX he just shoots from the hip. That’s the guy we needed to rebuild what we have here,” Markman said. “The challenge is unique in the sense that we’re building a show from scratch almost—putting guys together that haven’t worked together. We need your energy. We need your passion as these guys learn TV and that’s what he’s been for us.”
What Markman wants out of Moss is to be opinionated. No one is tuning in to hear Randy Moss recite statistics; they want to hear his take on the latest NFL topic. He started hot in the preseason by saying someone needed to be fired for the Hall of Fame Game turf debacle, and he continued this Sunday by decrying the league’s crackdown on celebrations.
He’s getting more comfortable in his new role, but he’s not getting better because he’s watching and breaking down film of himself on air. No, there’s a much more Randy Moss rationale behind it.
“I always tell my producers and coworkers to be straight up with me. If I sucked, I sucked. If I need help, I need help. Let me know and try to straighten up in some areas,” Moss said. “I’ve always been open to coaching and I’m still open to coaching. I’m not perfect. I’m still learning. I didn’t go to school for any type of journalism.
“I’m just learning on the run. Whatever it seems and however it looks, I’m just trying my best.”