Randy Moss waited. And waited. And waited.
Despite being the NCAA's best receiver during the 1997 season, Moss, who finished fourth in the Heisman voting that season behind Charles Woodson, Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, was not one of the top five players selected in the 1998 NFL Draft. Manning was selected first overall by the Colts, while Leaf was taken minutes later by the Chargers. Woodson was selected by the Raiders with the fifth overall pick.
While his former Heisman-finalist buddies were shaking commissioner Paul Tagliabue's hand, Moss continued to wait. As he waited, Moss, who watched the draft on TV, received a call from Vikings coach Dennis Green.
"Randy, I don't think you're going to get drafted before us," Green told Moss. "And I want you to know, if you're there on the 21st pick, we're going to take you."
Green, despite already having talented receivers Cris Carter and Jake Reed on his roster, was true to his word.
"Man, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you," Moss told Green upon being drafted. "I will not disappoint you. I will give you everything I've got."
While he wanted to reward Green's faith in him, Moss, whose fall in the draft was largely due to several off-field incidents, was also eager to show the teams that passed on drafting him that they had made a mistake. One of those teams was the Packers, the Vikings' longtime division rival who selected defensive end Vonnie Holliday with the 19th pick. Green Bay, the defending two-time NFC champions, had just allowed Terrell Davis to shred them for 157 yards and three touchdowns in their upset loss to Denver in Super Bowl XXXII. They were hoping that Holliday would help solidify their run defense while keeping Green Bay in the driver's seat in the NFC.
The 1998 Vikings, led by Moss, ripped through their first four opponents. Green Bay, led by three-time MVP Brett Favre, followed suit, as the two teams carried undefeated records into their Week 5 showdown in Minnesota. In a game between two mostly evenly matched teams, Moss was the difference, catching 52- and 44-yard touchdown passes while helping the Vikings pull out a 27-24 win on "Monday Night Football."
Two months later, the Vikings brought their 9-1 record to Lambeau Field to the rematch against the Packers, who at 7-3 were still in striking distance of the Vikings in the NFC Central division race. With his team ahead by just six points late in the game, Moss made the game's biggest play, a 49-yard touchdown catch that sealed the Vikings' 28-14 win, as Minnesota became the first team in five years to sweep the Packers. In two games against the Packers, Moss, that year's NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, caught 13 of 17 targets for 343 yards and three touchdowns.
Adding to the Packers' loss was an injury to Holliday, who was also in the midst of an impressive rookie season. Holliday, whose eight sacks that season set a franchise rookie record, suffered an ankle injury after it was twisted by Vikings lineman Todd Steussie in a pile. The manner of which Holliday suffered the injury did not sit well in Green Bay.
"I thought it was unnecessary, let me put it that way,″ Packers coach Mike Holmgren told reporters after the game. "It was a physical game and both teams were trying real hard. Injuries are a part of this game, certainly, unfortunately. And then every once in a while something takes place that probably didn't have to happen."
While Holliday would miss four of the Packers' final five games, Green Bay would go 4-1 the rest of the season and finish with an 11-5 record. The Packers, despite their strong finish, finished four games behind the Vikings in the standings, as Minnesota joined the 1984 49ers and the 1985 Bears as the only teams in NFL history to win 15 regular season games. While the Vikings had several players turn in career years, the team's brightest star was Moss, whose 17 touchdown receptions that season remains an NFL rookie record.
Instead of receiving a bye, the Packers had to travel to San Francisco for the first round of the playoffs. And after defeating the 49ers in the previous three postseasons, Green Bay fell to the 49ers following Terrell Owens' improbable last-second touchdown catch. The loss served as the end of an era in Green Bay. Holmgren, the Packers' coach since 1992, departed for Seattle that offseason. Reggie White, the team's Hall of Fame pass rusher, retired. And while they still had Favre and a slew of other talented players, the Packers (who spent their first three picks in the 1999 draft on defensive backs in order to deal with Moss) failed to make the playoffs in 1999 for the first time since Favre's first year in Green Bay.
While Green Bay's playoff loss was a heartbreaker, the Vikings suffered an equally devastating defeat in the NFC title game. Minnesota, who took a 10-point lead on the visiting Falcons at the start of the fourth quarter, lost in overtime after Gary Anderson, who did not miss a kick during the team's first 17 games, missed a 37-yard attempt that would have iced the game in regulation. With two of the NFC's best teams watching the game on TV, the Broncos had no issues laying waste to the Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII, as the Broncos, not the Packers or Vikings, etched their names in NFL history.
Fittingly, Moss' last win as a Viking (during his first go-around with the team) took place against the Packers in the 2004 playoffs. As he did throughout his Vikings career, Moss tormented the Packers, catching two touchdown passes in Minnesota's 31-17 win. It's safe to say that no tears were shed in Green Bay when the Vikings traded Moss to the Raiders that offseason, thus ending one of the greatest individual vs. team rivalries in NFL history.