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Sports Then and Now

Randy Moss Was Great, But Could He Have Been Even Better?

Posted on August 01, 2011 by Dean Hybl

When he was at his best, Randy Moss was as good as any receiver in NFL history.

In a hectic week that included a lot of surprises, perhaps one of the biggest is that wide receiver Randy Moss has decided to retire after 13 seasons, rather than join what would have been his fourth team in the last year.

Anyone who saw Moss toward the end of last season may have thought he was already retired, but just within the last couple weeks his agent, Joel Segal, said that Moss was in great shape and ready to prove that he could still be an NFL star.

Even at the age of 34, there was no reason to doubt that if he was completely dedicated that Moss couldn’t regain the prowess that made him the NFL’s most dominant receiver at two different stretches during his NFL career.

It is interesting that while his contemporaries at receiver like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco have always craved the spotlight and don’t seem interested in giving it up anytime soon, Moss has never been an overly vocal player and now, assuming that the reports are accurate, is quietly retreating into the shadows.

Just looking at his career statistics, 954 receptions (8th all-time),  14,858 receiving yards (5th), 153 touchdowns (2nd), it is obvious that he is one of the finest receivers of all-time.

Yet, knowing that there were occasions throughout his career that he wasn’t giving it everything he had on every play, you can’t help but wonder how much better he could have been.

Given his unbelievable physical tools, what might Moss have accomplished had he possessed the work ethic of all-time greats like Raymond Berry or Jerry Rice?

I believe the answer is that we would be talking about Moss, instead of Rice, as the greatest receiver of all-time.

There is no question that Rice was a special player and made himself into a superstar through a determination and work ethic that were unparalleled. The results are career statistics that will never be matched.

Yet, without ever being known for being one who worked to perfect his craft, at his very best, Moss was as good as Rice without seemingly ever having to work at it.

During his first six NFL seasons, Moss averaged 88 receptions, 1,396 receiving yards (15.8 ypc) and 13 touchdowns per season. Then, after three unspectacular seasons, he recovered to have one of the finest single seasons in NFL history with 98 catches for 1,493 yards (15.2 ypc) and a single season record 23 touchdowns.

One of the low-lights of his career was when Moss pretended to moon the Green Bay fans during a playoff game.

While those numbers aren’t better than the best stretch of Rice’s career, they are definitely close and especially impressive given that Moss played in a very different offensive system than Rice and was more of a deep threat, rather than a possession receiver.

But unlike Rice, who had the drive and determination to keep pushing for greatness into his 40s (he had 92 catches for 1,211 yards and 7 TDs at age 40), Moss seems to be ready to walk away at the age of 34.

It is just further illustration that while Moss had some great seasons and at times (especially early in his Minnesota years and during the 2007 season for the Patriots) was dedicated to the game, he more often than not got by on his unbelievable talent, instead of making himself into a great player.

Perhaps over the last couple weeks as he trained for another chance, Moss started to realize that at 34 he could no longer rely on his speed and talent alone and would have to work harder to achieve the greatness that once came with ease. Some players thrive in that situation while others choose to fade in the shadow with the memory of their youthful greatness as their lasting impression.

There is little doubt that Randy Moss will one day take his place among the all-time greats in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. However, given his occasional off-the-field issues and admitted lack of focus, I will be surprised if he received HOF entrance during his first year of eligibility.

Voters for the Hall of Fame have been especially reluctant to provide immediate enshrinement, especially to receivers, and I can see them “teaching” Moss a lesson by making him cool his heals for a couple years.

Also of interest will be to see what becomes of Moss following retirement since it seems unlikely that he will become a television personality. He has had a history of self-destructive decisions, so hopefully he can find something that will keep him occupied and happy without ending up as another unfortunate story of a sports superstar who went from having it all to having nothing.

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