Matt Birk (Matthew Emmons/USA Today)
Randy Moss and Matt Birk were long-time Pro Bowl players with the Vikings, but they made it furthest in the playoffs with other teams. That brings up an interesting dilemma for both: If they make the Hall of Fame, would they be remembered primarily as Vikings?
Last Sunday’s Super Bowl was historic in several respects: It may be the only time that two brothers coach against one another in the big game, the blackout that has some questioning whether the gaffe should somehow preclude New Orleans from hosting future Super Bowls, and had the 49ers been able to complete their comeback, it would have been the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Sunday may well have been the final game in the careers of Randy Moss and Matt Birk, both members of the Vikings’ classic draft class of 1998. Moss made an immediate impact on the game from the first time he took the field. It took Birk awhile to earn the respect of NFL observers and his peers alike, but, by the end of their careers, both are viewed as solid Hall of Fame candidates.
Birk is expected to go out on top, announcing his retirement after 15 NFL seasons. In that time, he was a six-time Pro Bowl selection (all coming in his first nine seasons as a full-time player), a two-time All-Pro selection and the Walter Payton Man of the Year honoree last year, which is given to a player based on community service and exemplifying the ideals with which Payton led his life. All in all, it’s a résumé that immediately makes him a Hall of Fame candidate. For the better part of a decade, he was viewed as the dominant center in the NFC. Winning a Super Bowl title only solidifies his case for the Hall of Fame.
If you ask Moss (or heard what he said during Media Day at the Super Bowl), the NFL should forego the standard five-year waiting period and just put his bust in Canton as soon as he decides he’s done. There’s no questioning Moss’ NFL résumé – Offensive Rookie of the Year, a seven-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro selection, NFC Player of the Year in 2003, Comeback Player of the Year in 2007, two Super Bowl appearances, a member of the 50 Greatest Vikings team and a selection on both the NFL’s and New England Patriots’ All-Decade Team for the decade of 2000-09.
There’s no questioning that Moss will eventually make the Hall of Fame. It might take until all of the writers who actually covered him die and are replaced by those who simply marveled at his physical gifts. Birk is a little more of a marginal Hall of Fame selection, but, given his dominance for a long period of time and, unlike Moss, was always accommodating with the media –the people who decide whether a player is deserving of the Hall of Fame.
It would seem to make more sense to have a blue-ribbon panel of former players, coaches and executives decide who makes their own Hall of Fame, but it’s the system we have.
Moss would seem like a Year One lock given his incredible production and immediate rise to the top of the league at his position, but when character comes into play it delays the process among HOF voters. Birk has an impeccable off-field history and has enough dominance at his position to earn Hall of Fame consideration.
If they make it, the question is this: Will they go into the Hall of Fame and be viewed primarily as Vikings? As a reader pointed out, players can be listed with more than one team, but there is also a decision on whether their “major contribution” came with one club. There’s no doubting that Cris Carter will go into the Hall remembered as a Viking – after all, he got cut by the Eagles and his year in Miami was less than stellar. His entire career was defined by his play with the Vikings. But what about Moss and Birk, if they make it?
Moss’ greatest years were with the Vikings, but after being left for dead at the 2007 draft – traded for a draft pick lower than what Seattle got in return for trivia answer Darrell Jackson – he went on to have the greatest individual season by a wide receiver in league history. He got to a Super Bowl with New England in the only 16-0 regular season in the history of the NFL – if not for a miraculous late comeback, Moss would have caught the game-winning touchdown in the only 19-0 season in NFL history.
Therein may lay the question. Both Moss and Birk made their careers in Minnesota as a Viking. However, Birk won a Super Bowl with the Ravens and spent four playoff seasons in Baltimore. Nothing about Moss is predictable. But, given his two-time exodus from Minnesota, he may not have great memories of his exits.
Two players. Two decisions for Hall of Famer voters down the line. How will they best be remembered? As Vikings or as former Vikings that had more success with other teams?
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.