Randy Moss: From star to afterthought with 49ers

Randy Moss strolled to the podium on Super Bowl media day – his

49ers hat tilted slightly to the left, his sleeves rolled up high

to reveal a cross tattooed on one arm, a large ”R” tattooed on

the other.

He carried himself very much like the star he once was.

”I don’t know how many questions I’m gonna give you,” he

barked to reporters, before breaking into a smile. ”So go

ahead.”

Then, for the next hour or so, he was the center of attention –

a role he seemed perfectly suited for, even though he kept saying

over and over that he just wants to be treated like anyone

else.

Moss proclaimed himself ”the greatest receiver ever to play

this game.” He urged all the coaches out there to listen to their

players every now and then.

”I’m me,” Moss declared. ”I just do it my way. That’s just

how I feel. I don’t try to be better than the next man, or break

any laws or any rules. Nothing like that. But what do I believe in?

I believe in myself. That’s just the way I’ve always done it.

”I know,” he quickly added, ”there’s some people out there

who like me, and I know there’s a lot of people out there who

don’t. For what reason, I don’t know and don’t really care.”

Moss was once the NFL’s most dominant receiver, but those days

are long past. He’s 35 now, clearly on the downside of a career

that actually seemed over a year ago. After bouncing around to

three different teams in 2010, he didn’t play at all last season.

But, he wasn’t ready to walk away from the sport just yet – and San

Francisco gave him a chance to come back for another shot at the

ring.

There was one big caveat: Moss would no longer be the center of

the offense.

The 49ers had plenty of others – from receiver Michael Crabtree

to tight end Vernon Davis to running back Frank Gore. Now that

Colin Kaepernick has taken over at quarterback, it’s easy to forget

that No. 84 is even on the field. Sure, Moss is savoring the 49ers’

run to the Super Bowl, where they’ll face the Baltimore Ravens on

Sunday, but he’s still struggling to get his arms around the idea

of being an afterthought on the field.

”I’ve always considered myself a playmaker,” he said.

”Blocking? Yeah, I understand that’s part of the game. Me going

out to be decoy? Yeah, I know that’s part of the game. But for me

not to be out here making plays is something I just don’t

understand.”

Then, he remembered why he’s here.

”If that’s going to win me a ring,” Moss said, ”yeah, I

accept that.”

He came oh-so-close during the 2007 season, teaming with Tom

Brady to lead New England to an unbeaten regular season and two

more wins in the playoffs. Then, in the game that really mattered,

the high-powered Patriots were shut down in the Super Bowl by the

New York Giants, who rallied for a stunning 17-14 upset after David

Tyree – not Moss – made a catch that left everyone in awe.

It’s a game Moss has never bothered to watch on video. It’s a

game that sticks with him to this day – and probably will forever,

even if the 49ers win on Sunday.

”There’s just something about `07, being undefeated going into

a Super Bowl and losing it like that,” he said. ”I’ll never

forget that moment because it’s not fun when you’re sweating and

you have confetti dropping down and sticking to your face and

knowing that you’re not on the winning side of the confetti.”

Surely, someone asked, winning this time would ease the pain

from five seasons ago.

Not so, Moss replied.

”If I win this one, that means I could have had two,” he said.

”That’s something I’ll never forget.”

Moss’ last big season came with the Patriots in 2009, when he

had 83 receptions for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns. The following

year was a mess, largely of his own making.

His days in New England were numbered before the season opener

when Moss complained about not getting a contract extension and

said he didn’t feel wanted. After week four, he was traded back to

Minnesota, his original team, but that didn’t last, either. Moss

griped about then-coach Brad Childress and was waived, finishing

out the dismal, miserable campaign in Tennessee.

Not surprisingly, no one jumped at the chance to offer Moss a

job in 2011.

It looked as though retirement had arrived, whether he wanted it

or not.

Moss used the off year to reconnect with his children, to get in

some fishing, to watch some games on Sundays. But he also shed some

tears, pained at the idea of ending his career before he was ready

to go. He made sure to stay in shape, just in case someone wanted

to give him another chance.

”I love this game of football so much,” Moss said. ”I don’t

like everything that comes with it, but going out on the field

between the white lines and playing football is something I’ve

always done. I’ve been doing it since I was 6 years old. For me to

be able to just walk away from the game, knowing that I wasn’t

ready, mentally or physically, it really hurt me, man. It really

depressed me.”

Then came a call from the 49ers, who had come up just short of

the Super Bowl during his season away. They felt Moss was one of

those players who might help them get over the hump – not so much

for what he could do on the field, but the impact he might have on

the youngsters in the locker room.

Moss started only two games, finishing with 28 catches, 434

yards and three TDs. But he had the desired impact on Crabtree and

Kaepernick, passing on his many experiences to those who will carry

the franchise into the future.

”One thing that impressed me the most about Randy is the way

that he works with all the other guys, and not even just the

receivers,” 49ers fullback Bruce Miller said. ”He’s so

knowledgeable about the game of football that he coaches other

positions and has all kinds of tips and reminders for

everyone.”

As the Superdome clock ticked down to zero, indicating the

49ers’ hour-long media session was over, Moss continued to chat

away at the podium.

Finally, Davis came over to pull him away.

It was almost as if Moss wanted to cling to the spotlight as

long as possible.

”It’s been fun,” he said. ”But I’ve got to go.”

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