Note to the reader: I wrote this article after Moss retired in early August because he has always been one of my favorite players. I was hoping the piece might not see publication yet, that Moss would somehow come back to the NFL. But with the pro football season about to begin and no Moss in uniform, it’s time to pay tribute to one of the best NFL players ever.
All of us who play video games have done it at some point: gone to the create-a-player section and built their perfect monster. Since I’ve never been blessed with height, my version of “Sam Hitchcock” was tall, lanky (but muscular) and so fleet of foot that no safety could cheat wide enough when I burned the trembling cornerback assigned the impossible task of covering me. My insane vertical leap rendered me a nightmare in the red zone, allowing my quarterback to loft the ball for the easy jump-ball touchdown.
My stat line would read somewhere along the lines of four touchdowns, 200-plus receiving yards and a victory.
Maybe it was my fascination with this namesake Frankenstein that drew me to Randy Moss. Ever since he came into the league with the Vikings and his unshakable cockiness was displayed on my television, I was hooked. He was faster than all the rest, with the stride of a cheetah mated to a gazelle; and when he scored, he would chide his opponent’s fan base and corner for not doubling him.
Moss was boorish because he knew he could get away with it; after all, he was blessed with a plethora of physical gifts and you weren’t. The media quickly learned to dislike him because, unlike Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, he gave less attention to coddling the press than he did to respecting his opponents.
I always felt that comparisons to Terrell Owens were unfair since Moss did not lambast his quarterbacks or undermine his teammates verbally. Owens was, and remains, a cancer to team chemistry, and while both stars made it to Super Bowls, to my knowledge Moss did not rip Tom Brady after the Patriots lost to the Giants like Owens did with the Eagles’ Donovan McNabb.
So blessed was Moss that a strategy was invented to try to stop him: the use of a safety “over the top” to double cover him when he burned past the corner. He finished second all-time in touchdowns and 100-yard games, fifth in reception yards and eighth in receptions. He had the most receiving touchdowns ever in a season (23) and almost led a team to the first undefeated season since the Miami Dolphins’ 17-0 season in 1972.
Critics will argue that Moss underutilized his talents, that he could have been so much more. But his best years were Koufax-like in his untouchable dominance at his craft which I feel makes him the premier receiver of his era despite Owens’ more consistent production over a longer period of time.
When his Hall of Fame candidacy comes up in a few years, critics will knock him for taking plays off, for undermining head coaches and consistently having a problem with authority. But the thing about Moss is that he played on his own terms, and his 80 percent effort in a game was better than almost anyone else’s 100 percent.
Moss had personality quirks, such as starting a juice company and living in Boca Raton, Florida with senior citizens. He also had vices, culminating in his using his car to “nudge” a policeman. But let’s also remember the Randy Moss Celebrity Charity Invitational Bass Tournament, which he founded to benefit children.
In 2011, athletes are crushed for being dishonest. We build them up to be larger-than-life gods, and destroy them when we find out their personal lives are not what we originally perceived. Moss never had that problem. He said what was on his mind, was sometimes impulsive to a fault, and wore his flare on his sleeve. And if you were a cornerback, and that arm sleeve was racing past you or elevating over you, then you were in good company because this was what Moss did best.