ESPN 30 for 30: Rand University (2014)

Directed by Marquis Daisy

Randy Moss is one of the best wide receivers to have ever played the game of football at any level. Was he the best? Maybe not, but I’m not concerned with having that debate. What he had to overcome to become one of the best is a pretty astounding story, and the focus of Marquis Daisy’s documentary, Rand University. That is what I want to talk about. Anyone familiar with any sports knows that there is a good many players that come from humble beginnings, seeing sports as their only way out of broken homes and/or slums. For some, sport is an escape from the harsh reality of everyday life. Randy Moss’ story is not much different.

Moss grew up in rural West Virginia in a town called Rand, which is unincorporated, a town without a local government. He, along with Bobby Howard and Sam Singleton, Jr., was a sports star in the town, a beacon of the type of hope that helps escape the notorious “Rand University” 7-11 and go on to bigger and better things, far away from Rand itself. “Rand University” is the name given to the local 7-11 in Rand, where once great hopefuls spend their time when the reality of their economic situation sets in after the dream of their athletic prowess in high school dwindles. Moss and Howard were the exceptions. Sam Singleton was the rule.

The impact of this film is stunted by its mere 50 minute run time. A film showcasing the story of Randy Moss must include ample discussion and coverage of Randy Moss. However, the story of Rand University is in fact not that of Moss. Moss was the one able to escape, and that story is well worth telling. Daisy shows us the troubled past of Moss, as he tried to make it to major college football, and later the pros. These sequences are entertaining, but each time the story cuts back to someone in Moss’ life still stuck in Rand, I couldn’t help but want to spend more and more time with them, and less on the story of Moss.

For instance, later in the film there is a very emotional segment involving Sam Singleton that perfectly captures what Rand University stands for and what it means to those in Rand. I applaud Daisy for his ability to present this very raw and very real moment for us, but I long for an entire film that covers this angle, or at least a film that spends more time on what Rand University is, how it has affected the lives of those who “attend”, and the circumstances that persist this somber tradition. By focusing more specifically on the trials and triumphs of Randy Moss, the film moves away from being a fascinating, unique entry into the series, and more towards the safe, standard of 30 for 30.

It’s hard to knock the formula that has succeeded so many times in the past by producing very watchable and entertaining films. Daisy produces a good film with Rand University, and learning the details of the star that is Randy Moss is a worthwhile venture. But it pains me to see the stories of Sam Singleton and Bobby Howard overlooked in many respects to focus on the story that is better known. Randy Moss has lived a very interesting life, and the circumstances of his hometown have added to the complication and drama his life have seen. Understanding where he came from is tantamount to understanding Randy Moss the person. To see Sam Singleton break down only goes to show how fortunate Randy Moss really is to have escaped Rand University.

**1/2 – Average

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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