There is a surreal symmetry to the retirement go-route run by Randy Moss, whose hollow 13-year Hall of Fame career ends, like so many, “not with a bang but a whimper.”
As the 6’4”, 34-year-old “Freak” runs away from defenders and detractors one last time, he does so in his trademark bittersweet, fast yet furiously fleeting style.
Moss has looked back and thrown up his hand mid-stride one last time, but he is so long gone in the deep end that no passer — not Tom Brady or Randall Cunningham or Daunte Culpepper or Brett Favre or even Jason Williams — can get the ball to their old friend. Moss has simply run too far, and there’s no point in jogging back to the huddle at this point in the game.
There are younger, safer and cheaper check-down receiver options everywhere. There is no market for Moss, a man whose swagger and status doesn’t allow him the luxury of being a common, situational pass-catcher.
After 954 receptions for 14,858 yards and 154 total TDs over 202 games, it’s impossible to deny Moss’ place among history’s top receivers. Only Jerry Rice can claim undeniable superiority to Moss, all others must argue.
Moss averaged 73 catches for 1,143 yards and 12 TDs per season over 13 years; and 88 catches for 1,396 yards and 13 TDs per season over his first six years with the Vikings from 1998-2003. His best single season was a 98-catch, 1,493-yard, 23-TD effort for the 16–0 Patriots in 2007. He eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in 10 seasons and 10 or more TD catches in nine campaigns.
Still, it’s hard to appreciate how incredible Moss’ career was without also acknowledging what might have been and what never will be. The parts of Moss — the highlight-reel plays, off-the-charts games and record-breaking seasons — always seemed greater than the sum of his whole career.
Moss was the focal point of the top two offenses in NFL history — the 1998 Vikings and 2007 Patriots, teams that combined to go 31–1 in the regular season before disappointing playoff losses.
The ’98 Vikes lost to the Falcons in the NFC title game following a missed 38-yard potential game-winning field goal by Gary Anderson, who was a perfect 35-for-35 during the 15–1 regular season. The ’07 Pats fell one game short of perfection, losing Super Bowl XLII to the Giants.
Moss never won a ring. He wasted two prime seasons in the Black Hole during his missing years in Oakland. And he took an ugly, legacy-tarnishing lap around the league in 2010 — when he allegedly told Brady his long hair made him “look like a girl” during a shouting match, was traded to the Vikings, berated a Minnesota catering company’s food (“I wouldn’t feed this (bleep) to my dog!”), was claimed off waivers by the Titans and finished his final season with either one or no catches in eight of his last nine games.
Ironically, Moss’ NFL career ended the same way it started — by being rejected by Tennessee and shown collective indifference by the rest of the NFL.
The Titans (then the Oilers) were, after all, the only team to draft a wide receiver ahead of the lanky, country boy playmaker who wore sunglasses indoors as a Heisman Trophy finalist alongside eventual winner Charles Woodson, runner-up Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf.
Supposed problem child Moss fell all the way to No. 21, where the Vikings, coach Dennis Green, offensive coordinator Brian Billick and born-again mentor Cris Carter were more than willing to welcome the Belle, W. Va., native from then-I-AA power Marshall.
And so many years later, the Titans were the only team to claim Moss off waivers. But following a 5–2 start with Super Bowl aspirations, Tennessee went into a downward 1–8 spiral and Moss was caught up in the undertow — running glossed-over go-routes and standing around with his gloves fastened to his facemask.
Once the most exciting player in football, Moss has slowly become an invisible man. He may still pull a Favre and materialize on a roster in 2011. But odds are, Moss scored his last touchdown — a four-yarder from Favre, for the Vikings — on Oct. 24, 2010 at Lambeau Field.
If you do bet on whether or not Moss will play again, you know the drill — “Straight cash, homey.” Just like Randy.