- Rand University dir. by Marquis Daisy
Rand University is the sixty-eighth film in ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series of sports documentaries. Narrated by Michael Kenneth Williams, the film’s subject is former NFL wide receiver Randy Moss, one of the most talented and yet perplexing men ever to play the game. Initially broadcast on November 11, 2014, the film attracted more than 2.1 million first-night viewers, the largest audience for any film in the series since 2012’s You Don’t Know Bo, a study of football and baseball star Bo Jackson.
Rand University is a suitable title for this film. But “Rand University” is a cruel, inside joke, not a school. With fewer than two thousand residents, Rand, West Virginia—too small to be considered a town—is a census-designated place (CDP) in Kanawha County. From Rand’s low-income bleakness and nearby DuPont High School, some few athletes escape. But most spend long hours of idle time in their post–high school years congregating near the dumpster outside the local 7-Eleven store—a place mockingly called Rand University. “We’ve had all-state athletes here,” Moss’s business manager, Donnie “Blue” Jones, told the Boston Globe, “but because of the environment in which they grew up, people in the community would say, ‘It doesn’t matter. He isn’t going anywhere but Rand University.’” Jones continued, “I was an all-state football player, but when they said that to me, what they meant was that when I was done with high school, I’d be standing at the 7-Eleven drinking a cold beer. That’s the university. I graduated from there.”
At the top of some NFL telecasts, Moss would introduce himself as being from Rand University. But he, of course, was one who did escape. During his time at DuPont, he played running back, receiver, defensive back, kicker, punter, kick returner, and punt returner, and the school’s football team won two state championships. Moss was named West Virginia’s Football Player of the Year and a Parade All-American in 1994. He played basketball with future NBA player Jason Williams and was twice named the state’s player of the year in that sport. In track, he won state titles in the one hundred and two hundred meters, and he played centerfield on the baseball team. If any athlete was good enough to break away from a life standing around the dumpster, it was Moss.
Still, success for this extraordinary athlete nearly did not happen. Only about 2 percent of DuPont’s student body was black, and the school’s racially charged divisiveness was palpable. “All three years [in high school] I got into a racial fight,” Moss said. The last altercation, in which another student was seriously injured, sent him to jail and squelched his plans to attend Notre Dame. Florida State took a chance on Moss but dismissed him when he was caught smoking marijuana while on probation. Somewhat miraculously, Moss then received an opportunity to play at Marshall University, which was transitioning from Division I-AA to I-A. He excelled there, to put it mildly, and finished fourth in the voting for the 1997 Heisman Trophy. The Minnesota Vikings selected him in the first round (twenty-first pick overall) of the 1998 NFL draft, and he became a six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver. [End Page 219]
Often labeled as misunderstood for his inexplicable behavior on and off the field, Moss was one of the most dynamic players in the game. But Rand University is not a full biographical treatment. “I wanted to really take the viewer into the mind of Moss,” said director Marquis Daisy, and “I wanted to make the town of Rand, West Virginia, as big of a character as Moss himself.” Probing the past in this way meant providing a cinematic journey back to where Moss got his start and exploring the troubles that almost ruined him. As a result, the film spends most of its rather short length on his high school years and...