As a sophomore in 1992, at the age of 15, Moss joined the track & field team and was the West Virginia state champion in the 100 and 200 meters with times of 10.94 seconds and 21.95 seconds, respectively. This was the only year he competed on the school's track team, but he would later join the Marshall track team and lower his 200 m time to 21.15 seconds. He also played center field for the baseball team.
Moss was born in Charleston, West Virginia and moved to Rand, West Virginia at a young age. He attended DuPont High School, one of two schools that later consolidated into Riverside High School, where he excelled in football, basketball, baseball, and track. Randy was also on the school's debate team. On the football field, Moss led the DuPont Panthers to back-to-back state championships in 1992 and 1993. He was a star at wide receiver, but also played free safety, returned kickoffs and punts, and was the team's kicker and punter. In 1994, he was honored with the Kennedy Award as the West Virginia Football Player of the Year. Parade magazine named him to their annual All-American high school football team in 1995 and in 2009 named him one of the 50 greatest high school football players of all time. At DuPont, he was a teammate of future Chicago Bears linebacker Bobbie Howard.
In addition to playing football at DuPont, Moss was twice named West Virginia Player of the Year in basketball (in 1994 when he was co-player of the year and in 1995), where he was a teammate of future NBA player Jason Williams.
After originally signing a letter of intent to play college football with Notre Dame in 1995, Moss took part in a racially charged fight at his high school that left one person hospitalized. On March 23, 1995, Moss had backed a friend in a hallway fight against a white student who had allegedly used racist comments towards Randy's friend. Moss was initially charged with a felony for kicking the student, but it was later reduced to a misdemeanor. On August 1, 1995, Moss pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to 30 days behind bars at the South Central Regional Jail in Charleston, West Virginia. He served 3 days in jail starting that night and would be required to serve the remaining 27 days within the following 18 months, after he completed his freshman year in college. Moss was expelled from DuPont and completed his education at Cabell Alternative School.
Moss' fortunes took a better turn on the football field during the 2003 regular season, where he became the second wide receiver in NFL history (behind Jerry Rice in 1995) to play more than 12 games (he played 16) while averaging over 100 yards and one touchdown per contest. He finished with 111 receptions for 1,632 yards and 17 touchdowns. All three numbers either tied or became a new personal best for Moss. Vikings finished 9-7 for the season. One of Moss's memorable highlights that year was when he lateraled to Moe Williams for a last second touchdown during a home game against Denver.
In 1996, while serving his 30-day jail sentence in a work-release program from 1995, Moss tested positive for marijuana, thus violating his probation, and was dismissed from Florida State. He served an additional 60 days in jail for the probation violation.
The first game of the season was at West Virginia University where Marshall lost. The second game of the season saw Moss pick up right where he left off in 1996. Facing Army, Moss caught 5 balls for 186 yards and two touchdowns. One touchdown went for 79 yards in which Pennington lobbed the ball down the left sideline. Moss leaped over an Army defender to snag the ball out of the air at the 40-yard line while the safety crashed into his teammate, knocking both men down. Moss galloped the last 50 yards untouched for the score. The other touchdown reception was his career long of 90 yards that came on a short screen pass on third down. Moss caught the ball on the right side of the field at his own 8-yard line, ran past 3 defenders in the middle of the field at the 15-yard line, hurdled two defenders coming from both sides of the left hash marks at the 25-yard line, then raced past the last defender at the 50-yard line before finally seeing daylight down the left sideline.
Ultimately, Moss transferred to Marshall University, about an hour's drive from his home. Because Marshall was then a Division I-AA school, NCAA rules allowed him to transfer there without losing any further eligibility. In 1996, he set the NCAA Division I-AA records for the most games with a touchdown catch in a season (14), most consecutive games with a touchdown catch (13), most touchdown passes caught in a season (28 – tying Jerry Rice's 1984 record), and most receiving yards gained by a freshman in a season (1,709 on 78 catches), a record which still stands. Moss was also the leading kickoff returner in Division I-AA on the season, with 612 total yards and a 34.0 yard average. The 1996 Marshall Thundering Herd went undefeated and won the Division I-AA title, with Moss having four touchdown receptions in the 1996 NCAA Division I-AA Football Championship Game. It was Marshall's last season before moving to Division I-A.
In April 1996, Moss smoked a joint just prior to turning himself in to jail. He was scheduled to finish the remainder of his 30-day sentence for misdemeanor battery while in high school. During his first week in jail, Moss was given a drug test that came back positive. He was placed in solitary confinement for a week and had 60 days attached to his 27-day sentence. Coach Bobby Bowden revoked his scholarship and Moss was dismissed from Florida State University for the failed drug test.
In 1998, Moss helped the Vikings to become the number 1 rated offense ever at the time, setting the single-season record for scoring (later surpassed by the 2007 New England Patriots, a team that also featured Moss) with 556 points.
In the offseason, Moss and his agent Danté DiTrapano began negotiating a new contract with the Minnesota Vikings. He was scheduled to earn $3.5 million in 2001. But Moss, who was entering the final year of the rookie contract he signed in 1998, was seeking a long-term deal that would make him the highest-paid player in the NFL. His agent said, "We want to break the tradition of quarterbacks being the highest-paid players." One option the Vikings had would be to apply the franchise tag after the season ended, but sources stated that Moss would request a trade if that happened because it would still be less than what he could command on the open market.
In 1999, Moss had another impressive season, catching 80 passes for 1,413 yards and 11 touchdowns, including a punt return for a touchdown. He went on to record five receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown in the Vikings 27–10 NFC wildcard playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys. Minnesota lost in the divisional round to the St. Louis Rams 49–37, despite Moss catching nine passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Moss was fined $40,000, which was later reduced to $25,000, during that game due to squirting an NFL referee with a water bottle. There was a stipulation that he would have to pay the difference in addition to any other fine if he had another run-in with the league.
The 2000 season featured second year quarterback Daunte Culpepper leading the team. Culpepper had been the team's first round draft pick in 1999; with a pick they received from the Redskins for quarterback Brad Johnson. He had been selected largely due to his extremely strong arm, which the team believed was perfectly suited for Moss's deep routes. The decision proved correct. Culpepper was a rookie sensation, the Vikings started 7-0, and Moss was a leading MVP candidate. For the second time in three seasons, Moss punished the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, including a spectacular 2nd half touchdown in which Moss caught the ball with his entire body out of bounds, aside from his toes. The play would be the feature shot in NFL commercials for years to come. Moss finished the season with a career-high 1,437 yards and league leading 15 touchdown catches. In doing so, he became the youngest and fastest player to ever catch over 3,000 yards and 45 touchdowns, earning him his 3rd consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl, and 2nd selection to the All Pro team. The Vikings would make it to the NFC Championship game, only to be blown out 41–0 by the New York Giants.
Moss tested positive in 2001 for marijuana under the NFL's substance abuse program and was subject to additional random drug screening for two years. A first time violation of the NFL's drug policy can result in up to 10 tests per month. Moss did not fail an NFL drug test again, and was rotated out of the program after two years.
On December 29, the Patriots defeated the New York Giants 38–35, finishing their regular season with a perfect 16–0 record. Moss caught two touchdown passes for a total of 23, breaking the single season record of 22 touchdown receptions previously set by Jerry Rice (in 12 games in the strike-shortened 1987 season). On the same play, Tom Brady broke Peyton Manning's single season record set in 2004 with his 50th touchdown pass. Moss recorded 98 catches for 1,493 yards in 2007, the highest yardage total in Patriots franchise history and the third-highest total number of catches, after teammate Wes Welker's 112 catches that same season and Troy Brown's 101 in 2001. He also earned his sixth Pro Bowl selection. His 2007 season featured touchdowns in 13 of 16 games (including 8 multi-touchdown games), nine 100-yard games, and six touchdown receptions of 40 or more yards.
After replacing Dennis Green on an interim basis to end the 2001 season, Mike Tice was officially named head coach on January 10, 2002. One of the strategies the Vikings first-year head coach came up with was a formula to get Moss the ball more often. Coach Tice called it the Randy Ratio. It was an effort on the coaches part to throw 40% of the passes to Moss as a way to keep him involved in the offense more than he had been in the 2001 season when he had stretches in games where he was being shut out, and partly to use more game clock by sustaining long drives to give the Vikings defense a chance to rest. An assistant coach would stand on the sidelines during games and track how many times Moss had been thrown to, and then inform Tice of the percentages so that he is always aware of it. In the 2001 season, the Vikings record was 4–1 when Moss had 40% of the passes thrown his direction, and 1–10 in other games.
On September 24, 2002, in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, Moss was driving and was preparing to make an illegal turn. A traffic control officer, noticing what he was about to do, stood in front of his vehicle and ordered him to stop. Eyewitness accounts of the event differ at this point, but Moss did not comply with the officer's order, and she was bumped by his vehicle and fell to the ground. Moss was arrested, and a search of his vehicle revealed a joint amounting to less than a gram of marijuana in his ashtray. Initially charged with felony Suspicion of Assault with a Deadly Weapon and a misdemeanor marijuana possession, Moss spent the night in jail and was released the following morning. Moss pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor traffic violation and was ordered to pay a $1,200 fine and perform 40 hours of community service. While the criminal charges were thus disposed of, the civil lawsuit filed by the traffic control officer brought a substantial penalty fine "in the low to mid six figures". Moss claimed that the joint was not his, and that he had let friends use his car prior to the accident.
On January 9, 2005, the Minnesota Vikings played division rival Green Bay Packers in an NFC wildcard playoff game. Moss finished the game with 4 catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns in the 31–17 win. After the second score, Moss trotted to the end zone goalpost and feigned pulling down his pants to moon the Green Bay fans. NFL on Fox announcer Joe Buck called it a "disgusting act". Green Bay fans have a tradition of mooning the bus of the departing team, and Moss was mocking that tradition on the field. Moss was fined $10,000 for his actions. Though the Vikings would win the game, they would lose in the next round of the playoffs to the Philadelphia Eagles, and Moss would be traded at the end of the season.
On March 2, 2005, Moss was traded to the Oakland Raiders for linebacker Napoleon Harris and the Raiders' first (7th overall, which Minnesota parlayed into wide receiver Troy Williamson) and seventh-round picks in the NFL draft. Adding a player of Moss's caliber generated optimism in Oakland, but the Raiders' poor play continued, while Moss suffered nagging injuries which limited his production. He surpassed the 1,000 mark on the final day of the 2005 season, finishing the year with 1,005 receiving yards on 60 catches. However, Moss only managed 553 yards on 42 balls in 2006.
On June 29, 2005, he launched the Randy Moss Celebrity Charity Invitational Bass Tournament. The tournament was a one-day event that paired celebrities and corporate sponsors with pro fishermen to raise money for the Smile Network, which is a foundation that provides financial assistance to children with treatable mouth problems, such as cleft palate. The tournaments motto is "fish for a smile."
In August 2005, during an interview with Bryant Gumbel, Moss admitted that he has smoked marijuana during his NFL career "every blue moon." When asked whether he still used marijuana currently, Moss replied "I might. I might have fun. And, you know, hopefully ... I won't get into any trouble by the NFL by saying that, you know. I have had fun throughout my years and, you know, predominantly in the offseason." The interview drew criticism from the league office, and his agent tried to spin it that his words were taken out of context. In response, Moss said "That was really me talking in the past tense of way back in the beginning of my career and my childhood – especially in high school and college."
Moss was not happy in Oakland, and on November 14, 2006, when he was honored as a kick returner by having an award named after him, he responded to questions about his dropped passes and lackluster effort in several games. Moss said, "Maybe because I'm unhappy and I'm not too much excited about what's going on, so, my concentration and focus level tend to go down sometimes when I'm in a bad mood". Days later, he reiterated his unhappiness with losing games and being a member of the Raiders on his weekly segment with Fox Sports Radio, saying, "I might want to look forward to moving somewhere else next year to have another start and really feel good about going out here and playing football".
One of the conditions of the trade was that Randy Moss would have to restructure his contract for salary cap reasons. Just hours before the Moss trade was completed, New England quarterback Tom Brady converted $5.28 million of his 2007 base salary into a signing bonus that was spread out over the remaining portion of his contract so that it could free up cap room. This enabled the Patriots to absorb Moss' incoming contract under the salary cap. Moss had two years remaining on his current deal and was scheduled to earn $9.75 million in 2007 and $11.25 million in 2008. Once the Patriots had Moss on their roster, he quickly agreed to a new one-year contract to replace his old one. The new deal gave him a $500,000 signing bonus, a base salary of $2.5 million, and the ability to earn an additional $1.75 million in incentives.
On November 4, 2007, James Black, NFL Editor for Yahoo! Sports wrote, "Every week, in addition to out-leaping at least one defender for a touchdown, [Moss] keeps making incredible one-handed grabs that make you mutter, 'How the heck did he come up with that?'" Two weeks later, he added a career-high 4 touchdown receptions in a single game against Buffalo.
In 2008, Moss formed the Links for Learning foundation, which was established to help children in his home state of West Virginia, and to build learning centers for the most needy student populations. In June, he and his former high school teammate Jason Williams hosted the foundations first annual charity golf tournament at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Hurricane, West Virginia.
In 2008, Moss hauled in 69 catches for 1,008 yards and 11 touchdowns despite losing quarterback Tom Brady in the first game of the season.
On January 15, 2008, Orlando-based radio station WDBO reported that Moss "had" been hit with a temporary injunction for protection against dating violence. According to the affidavit, Moss committed a battery upon Rachelle Washington, causing serious injury, and then refused to allow her to seek medical attention. The affidavit out of Broward County reveals Moss cannot come within 500 feet of the victim and cannot use or possess firearms. The next day, in a locker room press conference, Moss claimed the woman was simply looking for money "over an accident," because her lawyer came to his lawyer, threatening a lawsuit, and asking for money to settle before she went public to the media. Moss stated he had known Washington for about eleven years. He also stated in his defense that he has never assaulted a woman in his entire life, and asked that the media and fans "find out the facts" before "rush[ing] to judgment." Moreover, Moss' lawyer, in an e-mail to the Boston Globe accused the woman's lawyer of "blatant threats and attempts to extort money" from Moss. On March 3, 2008, Rachelle Washington filed papers with the Broward County Circuit Court clerk's office requesting that the restraining order be dissolved and the case closed. No criminal charges were ever filed in the incident.
On February 28, 2008, Moss became a free agent after the Patriots decided not to place the franchise tag on Moss. Although the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and Green Bay Packers were rumored to have interest in Moss, he decided to return to the Patriots, signing a three-year, $27 million deal on March 3, 2008. The contract included a $12 million signing bonus, and a total of $14.1 million guaranteed.
On April 29, 2008, Moss announced the formation of Randy Moss Motorsports, an auto racing team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. In July 2008, Moss announced that he had bought a 50 percent share in Morgan-Dollar Motorsports, with the team's No. 46 entry switching to No. 81. The team was reportedly shut down in 2012.
In March 2009, Moss's foundation made a donation that enabled the Women and Children's Hospital of Charleston, West Virginia to purchase a Starlight Children's Foundation 'Fun Center' for their patients. The 'Fun Center' is a portable bedside entertainment system equipped with a TV, DVD player, and 22 Nintendo Wii games.
On the morning of November 24, 2009, Moss flew home to West Virginia to personally hand out Thanksgiving dinners to families in the Charleston area. He stayed only a few hours before having to head back to Massachusetts for a Patriots practice later in the day.
Moss was claimed off waivers by the Tennessee Titans, the only team to submit a claim, on November 3, 2010. Moss played eight games with the Titans, starting four. He made six catches for 80 yards and no touchdowns.
On August 1, 2011, Moss's agent, Joel Segal, announced Moss's decision to retire from professional football.
On February 13, 2012, his 35th birthday, Moss announced that he was coming out of retirement and was ready to play again. In a live video chat with his fans via Ustream, Moss stated, "I wanna play football. Your boy is going to come back here and play some football, so I'm really excited. I had some things I had to adjust in my life."
On March 12, 2012, Moss signed a one-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers for undisclosed financial terms after a workout with the team's head coach Jim Harbaugh. On September 9, 2012, Moss caught his 154th touchdown reception, and subsequently passed Terrell Owens for sole possession of 2nd on the all-time receiving touchdown list. After Alex Smith suffered a concussion against the St. Louis Rams in week 10, Colin Kaepernick took over as the team's quarterback, but Moss had at least two receptions in each of the remaining five games of the regular season. He finished the season with 28 catches for 434 yards and three touchdowns. Since the retirement of Terrell Owens at the end of 2010, he had been the NFL's active leader in receiving yards. Moss would eventually go on to play in Super Bowl XLVII, where he had two receptions for 41 yards in a 31–34 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Moss was hired as an associate head coach and defensive coordinator at Victory Christian Center High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, in June 2014, where his son was attending high school and playing football.
Moss's parents are Maxine Moss and Randy Pratt. Moss has little contact with his father. He has a sister named Lutisia and had a brother Eric, who had a short stint in the NFL as an offensive tackle with the Minnesota Vikings. Moss has four children with his former girlfriend, Libby Offutt: Sydney, Senali, Thaddeus, and Montigo. Thaddeus played football as a tight end/defensive end for Boone County High School, St. Albans High School (W.Va), and Lincoln (R.I.) High before transferring to Victory Christian Center High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Randy was hired as an associate head coach (defensive coordinator) in June 2014. In 2016, Thaddeus played tight end for the NC State Wolfpack. On April 24, 2017 Thaddeus announced that he would be transferring to Louisiana State University. Sydney is a basketball player at NCAA Division III Thomas More College and set the record for points in the 2014 Division III NCAA Tournament.
In July 2016, Moss joined ESPN as an analyst, appearing on Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown.
In December 2019, Moss was named to the National Football League 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.