I got the chills watching this.
Could you imagine if he had done this during his prime? The only historical equivalent I can think of is Ted Williams. Pat Tillman was a very good player, but by no means the most dominant athlete in his sport. From Golf Digest:
“Tiger was seriously considering becoming a Navy SEAL. I didn’t know how he’d go about it, but when he talked about it, it was clear he had a plan….I thought, Wow, here is Tiger Woods, greatest athlete on the planet, maybe the greatest athlete ever, right in the middle of his prime, basically ready to leave it all behind for a military life.”
Now THAT would have been a story. Apparently the same bum knees that are preventing him from dominating golf again also curtailed his dream of being a SEAL.
Did I mention there was a cop present and that he was taken into custody immediately afterwards?
So Randy Moss retired yesterday ending one of the strangest and most successful careers in NFL history (at least until a team takes an injury at WR later this fall and signs him on the spot). Moss is easily one of the most polarizing figures in NFL history with both sides willing to vehemently argue their case as to whether he was the greatest football player who ever lived or whether he was the greatest waste of talent to ever play the game. It’s not that simple though.
To first understand Randy Moss is to understand the background that led him to the NFL. Like many a talented young athlete before him, Moss got into some trouble in high school with a fight (Allen Iverson anyone?). Unfortunately for Moss, it cost him a shot at his lifelong dream of playing at Notre Dame and he never forgave the school because it was his belief that they unfairly branded him a thug. From there he went to Florida State only to seemingly have another school shun his talent after he was caught breaking the terms of his probation from that previous fight. Spurned by the schools that he wanted so much to please, Moss set out on a path of destruction at the University of Marshall, catching 28 touchdowns for 1,709 receiving yards in his last year at the school. Did I mention he was the Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball in the state of West Virginia as a high school senior, along with winning individual state titles in the 100 and 200 meters? Did I mention he’s 6’5” with a 39-inch vertical and was clocked at 4.25 in the 40? To put it plainly, Randy Moss might be the single greatest athlete ever to play professional football.
And that’s where the controversy over putting his career in perspective begins. Randy Moss should have been the greatest player to ever play the game of football, and if not the greatest player, at least the greatest wide receiver. No offense to Jerry Rice, but no one ever did what Randy Moss did on a football field while making it look so easy. Unfortunately though, at best he’ll only be remembered as the second greatest receiver all time. And look how ironic that last statement is. As if a player should be disappointed that he finished statistically as the second greatest receiver in NFL history behind Jerry freaking Rice. But there’s no other way to put it. That’s how Randy Moss made us feel when we watched him.
It’s rare in sports that we come across an athlete like Moss, an athlete who’s talent and knowledge for the game is so far beyond its time that it causes the player to seemingly withdraw and become disinterested. Who can forget how wuickly Moss popped onto the scene in Minnesota, only to disappear just as fast in Oakland? It was then only appropriate to have a career renaissance in New England and break the all-time touchdown mark for a season. And just as quickly as it came back it disappeared again, the ebb and flow of his passion for the game seemingly incapably of being measured or understood by us mortals.
Coming up with comparisons to Moss is easy, and yet brings us no closer to yielding answers. In baseball no one will ever forget the sweet swing of Manny Ramirez. He’s quite possibly the greatest right-handed hitter of all time, and yet like Moss he left us shaking our heads so often that it’s quite literally impossible to understand his career. In the NBA his equivalent was no doubt Tracy McGrady, a player whose former coach Jeff Van Gundy recently described as something to the effect of “the most naturally gifted player to ever play basketball,” only who could never get quite motivated enough to bring himself to a championship level. Soccer has Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a Swedish freak of nature who has won his league championship on nine out of the last ten teams he’s played on but somehow is considered a failure no matter what his trophies his teams win. Check out this brilliant analysis of the Swede from Slate’s Brian Phillips:
Ibra checks out of games for long stretches, is easily distracted, doesn’t try all that hard with the media, and, when he happens to feel like it, plays unforgettably awesome soccer. The one thing the sports culture can’t stand is a player who doesn’t acknowledge the sports culture—someone who gets Bill Russell’s results with Wilt Chamberlain’s lifestyle and work ethic. Ibrahimović wins championships without exhibiting any of the virtues that we’ve collectively decided to believe championships exist to corroborate. And so he’s punished twice—first for not being stereotypically heroic, and second for not being stereotypically villainous.
And perhaps the greatest tragedy of Moss’ career is not that he didn’t care for vast stretches of time, but that he never won the elusive Super Bowl. It doesn’t seem fair. A player of his brilliance and talent should not be remembered for the failings of his offensive line in New England. There’s no way we should discount his career because Gary Anderson missed a field goal in the NFC Championship game after converting every single attempt that season. These aren’t the failings of the wide receiver, but the asinine reasons Moss was driven so crazy by the sport that he re-defined.
Why couldn’t his teammates be as great as he was? Why didn’t the game come so easily to them? These are the frustrations of the prodigy and the undoing of one of these rare beings is almost always disinterest. It’s equal parts tragedy and comedy.
I’ll leave you with one final plea. Don’t be one of the grumpy curmudgeons this week who takes the opportunity to knock Randy Moss. History almost always proves that players like Moss hold up better over time. One need only look at the shocking resurgence in Allen Iverson’s legacy over the last couple years. Everyone said the same things about AI back in the day that they say about Moss now, only to backtrack as soon as it became fashionable to appreciate him again.
Don’t make that same mistake.
Generation Y, where Discovery Channel could show re-runs every year for Shark Week and I’d never be able to tell the difference.
A collection of some of my all-time favorite Moss moments:
In this freak play, a normal player maybe gets one foot down if they manage to make the catch. Moss somehow got down three. LOVED the Culpepper to Moss long bomb back in the day.
Who can forget Joe Buck losing it over Moss’ now infamous mooning of the Lambeau faithful?
Straight cash, homie.
And finally, his incredible escape from Revis Island with one of the best one-handed catches ever.