DISCLAIMER: This column was originally published in 2011.
August 2011 opened with a bang, as the NFL received a scoop unlike many in recent history: according to his agent Joel Segal, Randy Moss was retiring from professional football at age 34 and after 13 seasons. The reaction was two-fold. On the one hand, many people (exhibit a) did not believe him and tried to call Moss's bluff for what it was: a simple plea for a team or two to give in to his financial demands for a new contract. Never mind that Moss is not Brett Favre, the professional athlete of today whose word you can definitely doubt when he says he's retired; Moss is not Tiki Barber neither, broke beyond repair and almost forced to try a comeback at 36 years old and after 5 years away from football. Moss's decision doesn't make sense when you consider that he had 83 catches for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns in the 2009 season. That is why this decision is hard to accept: Moss can still play football, despite what last year says, and it doesn't make sense for him to retire.
Yet, this is what Moss has been about his entire career: he has made a living out of achieving the nonsense. It doesn't make sense for him to stand 6'4" and 215 lbs. and be as shifty, quick and athletic as he is. It doesn't make sense for him to outsmart three Jets defenders for a touchdown (i.e. the first in that video) or do the same to the Buffalo Bills. It doesn't make sense tocatch a ball one-handed against Darrelle Revis and the New York Jets. This still holds true if we go further back. It doesn't make sense to manage a 90-yard touchdown on a screen pass against Army when his Marshall teammates do little blocking. It doesn't make sense for him to total 90 catches for 1,647 yards and 25 touchdowns in 12 games of Division IA opposition. Yet, Moss has done all of that. It is what he does and has done all of his life.
Then, there was the clincher: late Wednesday night, the Boston Herald reported that Moss had filed his retirement papers to the league. While it doesn't guarantee that the man will never play professional football again, it does show that he seems intent on staying true to his or, rather, his agent's word. The joke was really on us all along when we thought it would be on him when he would have come back.
On the other hand, others (exhibit a) debated Moss's worthiness of being a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Huh? Apparently, 954 catches (8th best in history) for 14,858 yards (5th best) and 153 touchdowns (2nd best) are not enough these days. Moss was a physical specimen unlike most of the other NFL receivers. He wasn't the fastest, the strongest or the shiftiest receiver of his time; but, he sure was great in each of these areas. However, Moss's strongest feature was an uncanny ability to adjust to the passes thrown his way. That is how you can be second all-time on the touchdown receiving list and record a catch of at least 60 yards in 11 of your 13 professional seasons. Despite what that old adage says about defense winning championships, the name of the game still is to score points. You play to win the game and so, you need to put points on the board. Few players were better than Moss at doing just that.
Some blame Moss for having dogged it a few seasons and having quit on a few teams; this blogger definitely recognizes that Moss was not beyond reproach. Yet, look back on Moss's time in Oakland (where and when he is accused of having behaved so horribly). His second year in 2006 was a definite waste, but in 2005 he did manage 60 catches for 1,005 yards and eight touchdowns with the combo of Andrew Walter and Aaron Brooks throwing the ball to him. Hardly a train wreck. Now, factor in the caliber of quarterbacks he's caught passes from. At first in Minnesota, it was a dominant Randall Cunningham, followed by a solid Brad Johnson before arrived Daunte Culpepper; that last pairing turned out great. Moss even fooled everybody into thinking that Culpepper was somewhat of a star when it turns out that he only threw to one. Then, after two years of dismal quarterback play in Oakland, Moss then moved to New England, and we all know how that turned out.
Part of what motivates this fallout is the belief that Moss should have been so much more; that Moss's career should have been so much better. People think that if there ever was one receiver who could have broken Jerry Rice's records, it was Moss. He didn't because he was marred by lackadaisical play and a lack of effort, is the thinking. There is one problem with that logic. A player doesn't have yearly averages of 73 catches for 1,142 yards and almost 12 touchdowns by lack of effort. In football, if you don't put in the effort you will get injured. Which didn't happen to Moss until the 2004 season. The man played all but six games over 13 seasons, yet he lacked effort?
This blogger believes that that argument is overrated anyway. What matters is not so much how hard you work, but how well you work when you do happen to be working. With Moss's career totals, it would appear he worked pretty well. In the end, Moss was a dominant receiver for 13 seasons in the NFL. He was a force of nature. A freak. The smartest receiver, as per Bill Belichick. A prodigy. Above all else, Moss is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer. Straight cash homey, as he once said. (For the record, let it be known that this soundbite is not even the funniest from that interview. It's just that the funniest one also happens to be highly inappropriate for a blog post title.)
Rather than complain that Moss could or should have been so much more (really, who knows?), everyone should celebrate who he was. Which was a fine wide receiver, second only to Rice.