He is less than two weeks away from his 36th birthday and in the late winter of a National Football League career that will put him in the Hall of Fame five years after he makes the official announcement that he is indeed retiring from professional football.
The odds of Randy Moss being a star or even playing a major role in Sunday’s Super Bowl match up between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are tilted heavily against him. His role with the 49ers this season has been more window dressing than anything else.
Nine games played, 1 started, 15 catches for 254 yards and two TDs. In a career which dates back to his rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings in 1998, Moss has had individual games more productive than his numbers this season for the 49ers.
Who in New England, for example, could forget the year he turned in the first season with the Patriots when he had 98 receptions for 1,493 yards and 23 TDS? No receiver in NFL history has had more.
All the Patriots did that year was go 18-0 before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl. Moss was a reason for the success.
That season tells you a lot about Moss as a player and as a person. He had something to prove when he arrived in New England, coming to the Patriots as slightly damaged goods after 9 seasons with the Vikings and Oakland Raiders.
The word was that Moss, with controversy clinging to him ever since he came out of high school in West Virginia, was on the downside of his career.
Moss proved the doubters wrong, turning in 4 productive seasons for the Patriots before the welcome mat was worn out. Moss went back to Minnesota for a season and Tennessee for a season and did nothing. He spent a year outside of football, chilling as he likes to put it. Maybe he was finally done.
But he wasn’t. He missed the game. “I missed the locker room,” he said at Tuesday’s media day at the Super Dome. “I missed being around my teammates.”
Moss’s teammates on the 49ers have labeled him a leader. After the 49ers beat the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game two weeks ago, he went into his Crash Davis from Bull Durham routine, telling his teammates that they should handle their Super Bowl experience like a business trip, not a celebration.
“I don’t consider myself a leader,” said Moss. “This team has a lot of leaders. I just wanted to play football. The things I’ve been able to give back to the younger guys is my experience. I never did want to be vocal guy and lead with my mouth. I want to lead by experience. ”
Moss said that and then a few minutes later was pushed about where he fit among the NFL’s leading receivers. After talking around the subject a little bit, Moss said simply: “I have to think that I’m the greatest receiver of all time.”
Interesting comment considering that former 49er and Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice is generally regarded as No. 1 and leads Moss in most measurable statistics.
But we digress. That is also a Moss moment.
“”He’s legendary,” said 49er wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who is expected to be a factor in the game on Sunday. “He’s my big brother. He’s Randy Moss.”
I first met Randy Moss in the summer of 1997 when he was starting his final year at Marshall. His collegiate stops had been brief, as he flirted with Notre Dame and Florida State before settling in his home state.
He had grown up in a town which had an atmosphere of racism, which got him into trouble when he defended one of his classmates during a school room brawl. Moss was arrested. There were other incidents, including a reference in a Sports Illustrated story which portrayed Moss as someone who down played the plane crash which had wiped out the Marshall football team seven years earlier.
In my interview, conducted along with the Los Angles Times’ Chris Dufresne, Moss talked about his past and his present at Marshall and said, “I feel a lot of hatred” in discussing life at Marshall.
Pure Moss. Direct and painfully honest, without regards to the consequences. Throughout his career, Moss has been labeled as high maintenance by many of his critics. Rarely has he done anything quietly, which is a contradiction to his personality.
The first time I saw him actually play was during a Marshall scrimmage when Moss turned a middle screen pass of 5 yards into a 75 yard TD run. Moss was a two time All America at Marshall and was drafted in the first round of the 1998 draft by the Vikings. All he did his rookie season was catch 69 passes for 1,313 yards and 17 TDs.. The Vikings went 15-1 that season and Moss was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Bigger, faster, better. A physical freak, which prompted a tag he picked up in the NFL of defensive backs being “Mossed”.
“It’s hard to believe they are talking about that,[” said Moss, who concedes that he still takes special pleasure in going over the head of a smaller defensive back to make a reception. “Sort of like a slam dunk.”
What is also a slam dunk is Moss’ induction into the NFL Hall of Fame. But that will have to wait until five years after he officially and finally retires.
Now there is speculation that he may play next season. There has been speculation that he will make a second trip to the Patriots, who still say they love him.
If that happens, Moss will again have something to prove. It would be wise not to bet against him, no matter what he does.