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Friday, 5 August 2011

Randy Moss: A receiver like no other

It’s week one of the 2007 season. I’m with some friends enjoying the return of the NFL and watching my beloved New England Patriots control the game against the New York Jets. It’s the middle of the 3rd quarter when Tom Brady takes a snap and just stands around his own 43 yard line. I’m thinking: “Brady never holds the ball this long, something’s gone wrong.”, and as Brady launches a ball downfield I’m almost certain something bad was going to happen. It was a feeling I wouldn’t experience again until week 5 of the 2010 season.

As the camera tracks the ball a silver and blue blur comes across the field, racing past 3 Jet defenders who all seem to have better position to make the play than he does. But Brady’s weighted the ball just right. And this blur comfortably catches the ball before walking into the endzone. Welcome to Foxboro #81.

I was warned by my Bears-supporting friend that I simply didn’t understand just how good Randy Moss was.  And he was right, really I had no idea. Moss’ first peak was before I followed every move in the NFL. All I knew really about Moss was what the media portrayed him as during his two year stint in Oakland. A once talented player who had lost it, not only that but who quit when things weren’t going his way.

Even now, as he exits the game with career numbers of: 954 catches, 14,858 receiving yards and 153 receiving touchdowns the professional sports writers have largely been lamenting Moss as a waste of talent, as someone who could have challenged Jerry Rice for statistical superiority but failed to. They’ve discussed his off the field problems that have dogged him since High School and used them to explain his “lack” of production.

I’m not here to do that. As a Patriots fan, and of the NFL in general I’m here to say that I will sincerely miss Randy Moss and everything he bought to the game.

As a rookie Randy Moss had a chip on his shoulder. After breaking multiple records at Marshall he slid down the first round due to character concerns. Moss said he’d been told by Dallas that they would be selecting him if they could. But they too passed on Moss before he was taken 21st overall in the 1998 draft by the Minnesota Vikings. The Dallas snub (he was a cowboys fan as a child) left a grudge that Moss seems to have borne with him throughout his career, having never lost to them and gone without a touchdown against them just once in 7 games. The rest of the NFL also suffered Moss’ ire at being passed over. In his first 4 seasons only Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk scored more touchdowns. In 1998 the Vikings broke the NFL’s single season scoring record while Moss took the rookie TD record.

And in 2007, when he again felt he had something to prove, he took the single season receiving touchdown record from Jerry Rice while the Patriots offense broke the '98 Vikes scoring record.

Did his personality get in the way? Sure. His first stint in Minnesota can be summed up in one play which occurred during a playoff game at Lambeau Field in January ’05. After beating Al Harris’ coverage with ease to score the game-icing touchdown in the 4th quarter Moss jogged over to the goalpost and feigned mooning the crowd. Brilliant and troublesome all at the same time.

I’m not going to list all the off-field issues Moss has had but needless to say there have been many. In the summer of 2005 he was shipped off to Oakland, where he quickly became anonymous before getting a chance in New England in 2007. 50 touchdowns later and with the rumblings of a contract dispute coming up New England did what they usually do, trade the veteran before he becomes too much of a problem rather than pay him to placate him.

After being traded from New England back to Minnesota, where the coaches had already lost the locker room, he was cut a few weeks later and spent the rest of the season with the Titans, mostly warming the bench. And teams seem to have decided now that at 34 he’s no longer worth the trouble.

In a way the professional writers are correct, Randy Moss’ career wasn’t supposed to end this way. He wasn’t meant to just fade into the background so quickly but they’re wrong about Moss being a waste of talent. In the end they can mourn the fact that the annals of the NFL might not recognise his as one of the greatest because the numbers weren’t all they could be. But football fans don’t look at numbers to judge how good a player was.

The internet allows us to see for ourselves and judge. And no one, except maybe Barry Sanders, has a highlight reel like Randy Moss’. It’s one that rather than making you clap and cheer makes you sit down silently and wonder: “How the HELL did he do that!?”. The number of times he’d streak past someone, or out jump them at the corner of the endzone was staggering. Some of the one-handed catches he made need to be seen to be believed.

There has never been a deep threat receiver like Randy Moss. The NFL will be a less exciting place without him. And in the end that's all anyone wants from the NFL isn't it? Excitement. Who's the greatest at X position or in Y era is secondary to the joy of watching amazing athletes perform on the field. Moss bought joy (and misery to opposing fans) to millions.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that Moss is done. Someone will get injured during the training camps, and the call will go out: “We need a deep threat… Someone get Randy Moss on the phone.” And if he feels that once again he’s got something to prove… Well I’d hate to be a cornerback faced with him.

-         - Toby Durant (@TDonSport)
-         - Pulling Linemen

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