Notre Dame Football: Imagine Allen Iverson and Randy Moss as Fighting Irish Teammates

A reality in which the two mega-stars teamed at Notre Dame is not so far-fetched

Allen Iverson and Randy Moss revolutionized basketball and football in the same era, both bursting onto the scene as collegiate stars in the mid-to-late 1990s, then as transformative stars of the millennium in the NBA and NFL.

 

And an alternate timeline in which the two shared both the hardwood and gridiron at Notre Dame could conceivably have been a reality.

 

Before arriving in a hypothetical South Bend, let's traverse each Hall of Famers path from Hampton, Virginia, and Belle, West Virginia, to Springfield, Massachusetts, and Canton, Ohio.

 

Iverson won the AP Player of the Year in Virginia at Bethel High School before heading to Georgetown, where his game first entered into the national consciousness. As a freshman on legendary coach John Thompson's Hoyas, Iverson posted a ridiculous stat line of 20.4 points, 4.5 assists and three steals per game.

 

He was even better as a sophomore, averaging 25 points, 4.7 assists and 3.4 steals per game.

 

 

Iverson served as a bridge between eras in the NBA. Generously listed at 6-foot, Iverson came into the pros at a time when big men like Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, and Shaquille O'Neal were among the game's most dominant. Even though the best player in the game at the time, Michael Jordan, operated on the perimeter, he officially measured at a half-foot taller than Iverson.

 

But his lightning-quick handles, fearless attacking of the rim, and unrelenting movement off the ball made the slight Iverson stand out in a land of giants, winning MVP between the 7-foot-1 O'Neal and 6-foot-11 Tim Duncan. Iverson was the league's most explosive undersized scorer in a generation, a smaller combo guard who could take over a game like Nate "Tiny" Archibald.

 

AI's game was a forerunner to today's landscape in which scoring guards like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard shine.

 

Moss won a Div. I-AA national championship at Marshall and, in 1997, was a Heisman Trophy finalist. Combining possession-receiver size at 6-foot-4 with the speed of a slotback — he doubled as a returner — Moss showed the transcendent skill and athletic that later earned him the nickname "Superfreak."

 

Moss was an immediate superstar upon arrival in the NFL. Once paired with another non-BCS conference superstar and Heisman contender, quarterback Daunte Culpepper, Moss evolved into a human highlight reel. Suggest he was the greatest professional wide receiver of all-time, and you may face some resistance; refer to him as the most exciting, and the proof is in the clips.

 

 

The pass-heavy emphasis Moss' game spurred on in Minnesota and later New England served as a prototype for the prevailing style now seen across the league.

 

Both changed their games, but each had skills in the other's world. Moss' basketball ability gained recognition in 1999 when an outstanding Nike commercial featuring actual footage of his prep hoop days playing alongside Jason Williams was in heavy rotation.

 

 

Moss said in a 2017 TNT interview with Kevin Garnett that he once dreamed of pursuing basketball out of DuPont High School.

 

 

Iverson, meanwhile, starred under the Friday night lights in Virginia high school football. Around the same time Charlie Ward was winning the Heisman Trophy with a never-before-seen combination of passing acumen and game-changing ball-carrying, Iverson broke ankles and dropped dimes as effortlessly on the football field as on the basketball court.

 

He won the commonwealth's Player of the Year award in football as well as basketball. In a 2016 VICE article on Iverson's football exploits, longtime recruiting journalist Tom Lemming raved about the Basketball Hall of Famer's quarterbacking.

 

The Iverson-Ward parallel goes further. Before he won the Heisman, Ward played a key role in Florida State's 1993 run to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight. He and Iverson later competed in the NBA Atlantic Division, with Ward a fixture in the New York Knicks backcourt.

 

Iverson had no such two-sport exploits after Bethel, focusing on basketball at Georgetown. The Hoyas football program was not much of a player on the Div. I-AA scene, and in a 2012 interview with SLAM, Iverson said Thompson stepped in to keep the guard's focus on basketball.

 

In the same interview, Iverson refers to Georgetown as D-III not quite, but the Hoyas only moved up to I-AA a year prior to his arrival on campus.

 

At a university with a higher-profile football program, and where the basketball coach had perhaps less leverage on such a decision, we may have seen the successor to Charlie Ward and forerunner to Michael Vick in the autumn and the new Tiny Archibald come winter and spring.

 

Say, a university like Notre Dame.

 

Notre Dame isn't used as an arbitrary example, either. A 2015 Bleacher Report feature looked in-depth at Iverson's plans to play quarterback at Notre Dame. Said longtime Iverson confidant Gary Moore:

 

"He was a far better football player than a basketball player. Far, far better. We talked about Notre Dame all the time. That was our dream. We watched the Fighting Irish on TV every Saturday. He was never supposed to be in the NBA. We were focused on the NFL. He should be in Canton as we speak."

 

Iverson's envisioned path detoured in a well-chronicled fight at a Hampton bowling alley, which very nearly cost Iverson his athletic career altogether. The ESPN 30 for 30 series documented the 1993 incident in 2010 in the Steve James (of Hoop Dreams fame) directed No Crossover.

 

The twist of fate that changed Iverson's course parallels Moss' life. His involvement in a fight at his high school resulted in Moss being denied enrollment at the university to which he had pledged to sign out of DuPont: Notre Dame.

 

A 1995 Chicago Tribune article on Moss' denial states the decision was not a direct result of the fight, which both school officials and local officers declared racially motivated per a 2000 Associated Press story on a lawsuit stemming from the incident.

 

However, as a result of his expulsion from DuPont, Moss had to finish his schooling elsewhere, complicating the process of qualifying for Notre Dame.

 

Had things gone differently for both Iverson and Moss, the former would have enrolled at Notre Dame in 1994. Moss would have joined the Fighting Irish a year later.

 

Now, the 1990s (and even the 2000s) differed from this era in that freshman did not often start — particularly quarterbacks. What's more, Iverson would have arrived in South Bend not long after ESPN analyst, the late great Beano Cook, predicted ballyhooed prospect Ron Powlus would win two Heismans.

 

 

So whether or not Iverson would have won the starting job adds a wrinkle to this hypothetical. Moss, on the other hand, almost assuredly would have seen the field as Derrick Mayes' running mate in the receiving corps.

 

But with the Virginia Player of the Year at Bethel High Iverson had won Notre Dame's quarterback job, we could have seen the Fighting Irish adopt an exciting new brand of football with one of the greatest athletes in recent American history tossing it up to another.

 

Meanwhile, the prospect of two such impressive basketball players being on campus feels like too enticing for then-Irish hoops coach John MacLeod to not pursue.

 

Notre Dame basketball was not particularly good in that era, but adding the 1996 NBA draft's No. 1 pick to a roster that included longtime professional Pat Garrity instantly makes for a Big East contender. The otherworldly leaping ability that made Moss one of the best over-the-top pass-catchers in football history coming up on the business end of some Iverson-thrown alley-oops could have added a new dimension to a quarterback and wide receiver running routes together in the offseason.

 

The pairing never happened, of course, and reality worked out just fine for both. But in this alternate reality where both Iverson and Moss were FIghting Irish, three simple words apply to the possibilities:

 

Straight cash, homie.

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

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