One last roar from the old dawg
THINKING about what might be the Super Bowl swan song of the amazing, confounding Randy Moss, I wandered down memory lane.
Memory lane was my home's crawl space — past the artificial Christmas tree, the wrapping paper and the junked computer to a dusty old box of books and magazines.
I pulled out an ESPN magazine from 1998. Looking at me was a young man, arms crossed, lips puckered and greasepaint smeared under the eyes like war paint.
The headline: "19 teams passed on Randy Moss and he's gonna make 'em all pay."
The story focused on the chip on the rookie's shoulder. Sliding way down the draft after stomping a classmate at DuPont High, the testing positive for pot at Florida State and the racing through incredible two seasons at Marshall, Moss was taking out his frustrations on the NFL.
Making a professional splash with the Minnesota Vikings, he was mouthing off at his teammates, saying he was going to take them deep in practice.
"Yo, what's up with this guy?" nose tackle Jerry Ball, a 12-year veteran asked. "Can he even play?
"Listen here, son. I'd rather see a sermon than hear one. I'd rather you walk with me than just show me the way. The eyes are a better pupil, more willing than the ear. In other words, I see you talkin' something. But I don't see you doin' nothin'."
Here's what ESPN concluded: "Now Moss was the pup — jammed at the line, word-slapped over the middle, silenced into limping away with his tail squarely between his legs."
Except Moss had the last word, calling out to Ball. "Yo, dawg, I'm going to show you too."
He did. He streaked down the field, he leaped over defenders and he sucked in footballs like nothing could escape the gravity of his big, gloved mitts.
His moods, like his talent, could be mercurial.
On the field, he usually ran straight ahead, surging past defenders.
But his mind curved and hooked — from kind to crass, from enthusiasm to gloom, from delightful to dour.
Unbelievable athletic feats became commonplace until 2010, when he griped about his contract with New England. He was traded back to Minnesota and washed out there after complaining about the lunch caterer.
He finally finished up with the Tennessee Titans, where nothing titanic at all happened.
Yo dawg. It seemed like that was it.
Out with a peep.
Moss took a year off, seemingly retired, fishing, hanging out with his kids and sometimes showing up on Ustream, a live broadcasting site on the Internet.
Then one more incredible thing happened. The 49ers, a team on the edge of greatness, brought him back — not to leap over defenders but for the influence he might have on youngsters in the locker room.
Randy Moss was coming back as an elder statesman.
Dawg was going to impart wisdom.
Remarkably, he settled into his new role. He didn't streak down the field like he used to — but he didn't run his mouth so much either. The wily vet showed young teammates the way.
"Randy's been ridiculously good," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said in a fresh Sports Illustrated sitting on my coffee table.
"His leadership has been off the charts. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he doesn't care about anything but winning every day."
Then, just as I was about to marvel at the miracle of maturity, to wax about the perspective that age gives us — the old Randy roared back.
This week, behind the podium at a Super Bowl media day, Randy proclaimed himself the greatest receiver to ever play the game. It was like the synapses in his brain snapped to attention, just like his fast-twitch muscles still can.
Boom! Old Randy is back, running his mouth like a rookie.
"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."
Thanks, dawg. You ruined my conclusion that you're older and wiser. But you wouldn't be Randy Moss if you didn't.
I liked it.
Yo dawg. Do your thing one more time. Bring back a Super Bowl ring to Rand.