CHARLESTON, W.Va. (June 24, 2006) -- Randy Moss walked behind the counter in a pinstripe suit with a red striped tie, traded his jacket for an apron, took off his sunglasses and went to work making smoothies for customers at his fruit-juice franchise.
Hundreds of people turned out at the grand opening of the Inta Juice store in Charleston to get Moss' autograph and try the product the All-Pro wide receiver first tasted while he was with the Minnesota Vikings.
"Am I getting paid for doing this today?" Moss said while flashing a smile.
"Yeah, we've got minimum wage coming to you," replied Berkley Fuller, executive vice president and chief business development officer of Inta Juice, which is based in Fort Collins, Colo.
The store sells more than 50 flavors of fruit smoothies and fresh juices, along with healthy snacks.
The first smoothie Moss made, Luscious Lemon, was bought by Joe Burgess of South Charleston for his wife, Carol, who returned a few minutes later to get Moss' autograph on her cup.
"I think it's a great thing that he's doing. It's beneficial for the community," Joe Burgess said. "He's putting his roots back down in West Virginia. Right now, Randy is trying to come back and pay back the community."
It all started when Moss, now with the Oakland Raiders, and his Vikings teammates would often visit an Inta Juice franchise in Eden Prairie, Minn., near the team's headquarters.
His favorite was the Caribbean Blend, made with lime sherbet, raspberry juice, strawberries and bananas.
"It's really the first one that I ever tasted," Moss said. "I fell in love with it.
"By being so healthy and being able to taste the product, I was overwhelmed. Whenever I figured out that I could have something like this of my own, that's why I did it."
A year ago, Moss and his lawyer, Tim DiPiero, were visiting a Florida business that makes a mask spoofing Moss and his trademark afro. Moss told DiPiero he wanted to go try a smoothie at an Inta Juice competitor's shop and the subject of Inta came up.
Moss, a Rand native, then directed DiPiero to call Inta Juice about bringing a franchise to his native West Virginia. DiPiero was skeptical at first.
"I said, 'I don't know. West Virginia, we're a bunch of people who seem to like junk food,' " DiPiero recalled telling Moss. '"I don't know if they'll go for this healthy food.'"
But that made Moss, who shies away from junk food, even more determined.
"I just think it's a good fit," Moss said. "We really didn't have anything here in town for the people that tasted like this and being as healthy as it is. So I just thought about investing and bringing it back home."
Like DiPiero, Fuller wasn't so sure initially, either.
"My first reaction was a little bit of surprise," Fuller said. "Why is Randy contacting us? What's he interested in?"
Moss went to Colorado to talk with company officials directly and won them over. Not only did Moss start the process of opening a franchise, he made an undisclosed, substantial investment in Inta Juice, earned a seat on the board of directors and became involved in marketing the company.
He even attended a soccer game for Fuller's daughter, which showed Fuller that Moss is not like the oft-criticized football player. Once someone gets to know him in person, "he really is different than the way the media kind of makes him out to be," Fuller said.
It turns out that smoothies were another way for Moss to smooth out a rift with his home state.
Although he was a Heisman Trophy finalist at Marshall in 1997, Moss hasn't been a hero in the community.
He spent a few days in jail for a parole violation in 1996. By his rookie season with the Vikings in 1997, several articles were written in which Moss criticized his home state and said he was happy to get out of West Virginia.
But his image continued to take a hit.
There was his "I play when I want to play" comment with the Vikings. He squirted an official with a water bottle in 1999, verbally abused corporate sponsors on a team bus in 2001 and bumped a traffic control officer with his car in 2002.
In 2004, Moss was fined $10,000 for pretending to pull down his pants and moon the Green Bay crowd during Minnesota's playoff victory and also drew criticism for leaving the field with 2 seconds left in a regular-season loss against Washington.
But over the years, Moss has held annual autograph sessions for children in Charleston and has taken several busloads of kids to an Ohio amusement park.
"I think it takes time," DiPiero said outside Moss' Inta Juice store. "Actions speak louder than words. We've never had so much positive feedback than we've had from this. You can tell by the turnout that the people are excited.
"I don't think there's any doubt that the healing's been going on for some time and the repair is pretty much finished. I think we're in good shape now. It's all positive."
The Associated Press News Service
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