Randy Moss explains not picking Tennessee football — Peyton Manning was late

Peyton Manning and Randy Moss stood side by side behind the Heisman Trophy in 1997 as finalists for the award.

They could have both been representing Tennessee football had history unfolded differently on Moss' recruiting visit to Knoxville.

"He wasn't punctual," Moss said of Manning with a laugh and a smile. "That was the reason I didn't become a Volunteer. Peyton was late."

Moss reflected on his recruitment and his Vols official visit Monday on the ManningCast during Monday Night Football with Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.

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Peyton Manning was in Virginia visiting his future wife, Ashley, when Moss arrived for his visit to Tennessee as a highly coveted recruit out of Dupont High School in West Virginia.

"When I went to Tennessee, all I heard was Peyton Manning is in Virginia at a family member's house. He is trying to drive back just to recruit you," Moss said. "I was like, 'Well, if he is driving here just to recruit me, why isn't he here right now to get me?'"

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"That hurts," Manning said before clarifying the visit was to see his then-girlfriend, who attended Virginia. Manning got up at 3 a.m. to get back to Knoxville in an attempt to recruit Moss.

"I said Randy, 'We are going to throw it every play here. Three years you will be coming out to the NFL,'" Manning said. "He was not hearing it. He was headed for Notre Dame. I gave him my best pitch, though."

Moss said his "first visit to Notre Dame was special because that is where my heart was." Tennessee and Florida also were heavily in Moss' recruitment as a 1995 graduate.

The future NFL Hall of Famer signed with Notre Dame. He never played for the Fighting Irish amid legal troubles stemming from a racially charged fight at Dupont High School. He landed at Florida State before transferring to Marshall, where he was a two-time All-American.

Moss had 174 catches for 3,529 yards and 54 touchdowns in two seasons with the Thundering Herd. He finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting, while Manning finished second to winner Charles Woodson. Manning was picked No. 1 in the 1998 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. Moss was picked No. 21 by the Minnesota Vikings.

Moss caught 982 passes in 14 NFL seasons. His 156 receiving touchdowns ranks second in NFL history, while his 15,292 yards ranks fourth. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2018.

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at michael.wilson@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Randy Moss reflects on Tennessee football recruitment, Peyton Manning