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Lunchbreak: Revisiting Randy Moss on Turkey Day & Vikings players Thanksgiving plans


EAGAN, Minn. — Twenty-five years ago, Vikings legend Randy Moss put on one of the greatest Thanksgiving Day performances in NFL history against the Dallas Cowboys.'s Judy Battista wrote about Moss and the Vikings historic performance, which still resonates for the holiday first associated with college football in 1876 and the NFL since 1920.

The 1998 games included a matchup between the Lions and Steelers in Detroit with a memorable coin flip before overtime and Moss becoming a household name with a dazzling showing that offset temptation for an afternoon nap.

Tens of millions were watching 25 years ago, on what may have been the most memorably weird, confusing and simply thrilling day of Thanksgiving games in the NFL's history. On Nov. 26, 1998, the Lions beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 19-16, in overtime in a game that included a coin flip that was botched to such a degree that it earned an eternal spot in blooper reels, prompted amateur sleuths to enhance the television audio to get to the bottom of the fiasco, forced the NFL to enact an immediate rule change and, quite possibly, caused the Steelers' season to go kaput.

And then, with the end of that game and a switch of channels, the NFL went from the ridiculous to the sublime. The jaw-dropping coming-out party for a rookie receiver named Randy Moss began in Dallas, where the Minnesota Vikings beat the Cowboys, 46-36, the proceedings narrated by voices that provided the soundtrack for a generation of football fans: Pat Summerall and John Madden.

Battista's piece includes thoughts from Moss, Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones and former Vikings Offensive Coordinator Brian Billick, among several others.

Moss: "I just remember my first Thanksgiving game, growing up and always playing football, our little form of football, before the game came on, and I was just thinking during the week, "Now I'm playing the big game." I was more excited and antsy to get on the field. And it was my first meeting against Dallas. I owed them one. There were a lot of emotions running through my head because of the draft and what didn't happen, and at the same time, I'm getting to play on Thanksgiving, where in the past, I'm eating and watching the game."

The Minnesota Vikings were 10-1 entering Thanksgiving and on the way to setting the record at the time for scoring offense. Quarterback Randall Cunningham was an All-Pro that season. So was the rookie wide receiver — Moss — who was the 21st overall pick in 1998.

Moss was no under-the-radar prospect. He was a former West Virginia high school player of the year in both football and basketball and a state track champion in the 100 and 200 meters.

Jones had told Moss that the Cowboys were going to draft him if he was on the board, but Dallas went with Greg Ellis at No. 8 overall that spring.

View the best photos of Vikings legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss.

Jones: "He was on the board. We'd had a great evaluation, great reports from the coaches on Ellis. We were a little reluctant to go that high with a receiver, but that and the combination of what Greg Ellis was as far as his character, Randy was getting a little criticism at that time. We had great experiences having great receivers with Michael Irvin. Michael came ready to play 24 hours a day, on and off the field. We had had great success with receivers that had a lot of energy on and off the field and had a lot of personality. Frankly, I was reminded that we were zigging rather than zagging making that decision. Unquestionably, Randy was a difference maker."

Moss caught three passes against the team who was among the many that passed him up: touchdowns of 51, 56 and 56 yards on his way to leading the NFL with 17 touchdown catches as a rookie. The third of the day, which began as a 5-yard hitch, is Moss' favorite.

Former Cowboys QB Troy Aikman: "What I remember more than anything was the last one he caught, I was standing right there. It was like a hitch route. It was right in front of me where he caught it. I was standing with [backup QB] Jason Garrett. I remember thinking, I may have said it out loud to Jason, at least he's not going to score a touchdown on that one."

He did.

Moss: "The one where I stutter-stepped him at the end, shrugged my shoulder at the end when he tried to grab me. My best friend, when that comes up, will say, you remember that play? Yeah, that's the stuff we used to do growing up. That was backyard, go down to the fire hydrant. Talk about razzle-dazzle stuff growing up in West Virginia. The 5-yard hitch. That's got to be my favorite."

Battista explores several key moments leading up to the Thanksgiving game. Click here to read the full story.

Star Tribune highlights Vikings players' Thanksgivings

The Vikings host the Chicago Bears on Monday night, and the team is preparing for the game like it's any other week.

But coaches, players and staff still found time to celebrate the holiday. Star Tribune writer Andrew Krammer highlighted what players did this year.

View photos from the Vikings Classic jersey photoshoot. The Classic throwback jerseys will be worn Week 12 of the 2023 season against the Bears on Monday Night Football.

About 5½ years ago, the Capital Grille steakhouse in Minneapolis served as the backdrop to quarterback Kirk Cousins' last flirtations with the Vikings before ultimately signing as a coveted free agent in March 2018. Cousins' family wined and dined with team brass and players including Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph before he officially joined the Vikings.

Coincidentally, that's where Joshua Dobbs, the Vikings current starting quarterback, said he plans to have his Thanksgiving Day meal. It's a tradition since 2017 with his parents, Stephanie and Robert, that will continue to a fourth different NFL city after Dobbs spent Thanksgivings in Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Cleveland.

So goes the life of an NFL journeyman, where home is where he lays his head.

"We just go find whatever the Capital Grille is, like the one steakhouse open on Thanksgiving, and they're in every single city in the United States," Dobbs said Wednesday. "So we have a pretty consistent Thanksgiving ritual that we'll be excited to do tomorrow as well."

Thanksgiving traditions vary for NFL players. Some, like safety Harrison Smith, spend 12 seasons in the same place, evolving from a single guy who enjoyed a day off to crafting new traditions as a married man with an 18-month-old daughter.

Most players are transient, forced to connect with relatives and friends from afar. Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, the Omaha native who played for the Buffalo Bills from 2018-2021, said he'll connect with distant relatives and friends on Thursday afternoon after the Vikings "turkey bowl" practice.

Long snapper Andrew DePaola is now 36 years old with an All-Pro selection to his name. But in a five-year span from 2016 through 2020, he was on five different NFL teams. During those early days, DePaola said he spent holidays with other teammates or enjoyed time to relax on his own. He always connected with family somehow.