From starring with the Patriots to struggling with the Vikings to near obscurity with the Titans, the departure and subsequent decline of Randy Moss wasn't easy to take. Here's how it went down.
There's something hypnotic about a Randy Moss press conference. His session at Super Bowl media day three years ago was practically porn for understimulated Patriots beat reporters. Hey, I was rapt, too. So after the Patriots' season opener on Sept. 12, when Moss -- who days before had expressed dissatisfaction with his contract situation -- delivered a 16-minute soliloquy, he had my undivided attention.
"Everybody has a certain mystique about them," Moss said. "I guess that people just don't like the way that I carry myself. If that's what it is, then that's what it is."
Amazingly, that was only a jumping off point. Things were about to get even weirder.
A week after coming out with guns blazing -- kinda like Yosemite Sam with a West Virginian drawl -- Moss makes a stunning one-handed touchdown grab in the Patriots' 28-14 loss to the Jets. If Tom Brady had tossed an egg instead of a football, I doubt it would've cracked in Moss' palm. Seven days later, Moss adds a pair of TDs in a 38-30 win over Buffalo. Sadly, they're the last two passes Moss will catch as a Patriot.
The only pass Brady throws Moss' way in New England's 41-14 win over Miami skids off the receiver's fingertips. When asked about his performance, Moss tells the Herald's Ian Rapoport, "It's called a game plan."
Bill Simmons accidentally tweets "Moss Vikings" to his 1.3 million followers instead of direct messaging ESPN colleague Adam Schefter. Sports Guy soon clarifies: "Rumors swirling about a Pats-Minny trade for Randy Moss." Later, FOX NFL guru/death fighter Jay Glazer puts on his cape and swoops in: "Yes, vikes and pats have been working on trade that sends randy moss to vikes and r very close but can't be done until vikes and moss work out new contract, which they r working on..." R u serious?
Glazer confirms his initial report. Moss to the Vikings for a third-round pick. I don't like the trade much. To me, having Moss for 12 games is worth more than a third rounder, no matter how much I'm told otherwise. Two camps quickly form. The Belichick toadies (click here if you hate this group) and the Moss apologists (click here if you hate this group). What Deadspin's Tommy Craggs writes stings, especially the last part. "Brett Favre's a happier man, and poor Wes Welker will have two defenders in his earhole from here on out. Belichick just sacrificed a Hall of Famer at the altar of the local stupids. Hope you guys are happy." Dumping Moss may end up being the right move, but no longer being able to watch Moss -- who's certainly bound for Canton someday -- every week, well, sucks.
The Patriots start leaking like the Metrodome roof. ESPN's Mike Reiss reports that Moss and quarterbacks coach/play caller Bill O'Brien were "involved in a heated exchange at halftime of the team's victory Monday over the Miami Dolphins, according to player sources. The locker-room exchange [was] described as an ‘outburst' by one player." A few days later, on CBS, Charlie Casserly says that shortly before Moss was traded, "Tom Brady and Randy Moss went toe-to-toe and had to be separated." The tiff allegedly included, "Brady telling Moss, ‘You've got to cut your beard.' And Moss counter[ing], ‘You've got to get your hair cut. You look like a girl.'" On WEEI, Belichick actually refutes that one, sassing Casserly in the process: "Who's been wrong more than Charley Casserly since he left the Redskins? His percentage is like a meteorologist."
After telling Vikings fans to "pull your 84 jerseys out, man," Moss starts off his second tenure in Minnesota with a pair of decent games. He catches four balls for 81 yards and a touchdown in the Vikings' 29-20 loss to the Jets. A week later, he catches five balls for 55 yards in a 24-21 win over the Cowboys. Meanwhile, the fellas at Cold Hard Football Facts unleash the Brady-Moss statistical death spiral, which documents the decline in Moss' production. "The numbers confirm what you might have expected: targeting a deep threat, even a rare and elite performer like Moss, is a high-risk, high-reward venture. And, over time, the risks rose and the rewards declined."
Moss catches a single pass for eight yards in the Vikings' 28-18 loss to the Patriots in Foxborough, and then he gets weepy -- about his former team. "I don't know how many more times I'll be in New England again. But I leave coach Belichick and those guys with a salute. I love you guys. I miss you." And then fittingly, "I'm out."
Like Barney Gumble said when he knocked over the giant bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's syrup, "IT'S ALL HAPPENING AGAIN!" The Vikings release Moss. In four games with Minnesota, he has 13 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns. RandyLeaks continues, this time with Michael Silver of Yahoo!'s report about Moss' dissatisfaction with a catered team meal: "Moss paced up and down the serving line and loudly expressed his displeasure with the offerings. According to one player who witnessed the scene, Moss yelled, ‘What the [expletive]? Who ordered this crap? I wouldn't feed this to my dog!"
Tennessee signs Moss on Nov. 3. In his first game as a Titan, a 29-17 loss to Miami, he catches one pass for 26 yards. The next week, he has no catches in a 19-16 win over Washington. The week after that, in a 20-0 loss to Houston, he catches three passes for 23 yards -- it ends up being his best performance as a Titan.
A guy named "Woody" calls a Nashville sports radio station and bashes Titans coach Jeff Fisher. "Woody" sounds an awful lot like Randy Moss. (Alas, it doesn't appear that "Woody" is actually Randy Moss.) The real Moss ends his season with a one-catch performance in Tennessee's 23-20 loss to Indianapolis. In eight games with the Titans, Moss totals six catches for 80 yards. He finishes the season with 28 catches for 393 yards and five touchdowns. Statistically, it's the worst year of his career.
Fisher still claims to be fond of Moss. And Moss tells reporters he doesn't want out. "As a player, it hurts me deep down inside that I want to be out there helping the team and listening to the fans," Moss says. "You know they're chanting my name. I want to make plays. I want to bring them out of their seats because that's what I'm used to doing."
It's foolish for me to assume that if the 33-year-old Moss didn't launch a public campaign for a new contract, he'd still be in New England. But what if, somehow, he stuck around? Even if the Patriots offense didn't evolve like it has, we'd at least be able to watch Moss go deep on Sundays.
But that's not what happened. Moss, who's running dangerously low on mystique these days, is gone. He'll likely resurface again this offseason, when he signs with another team. His introductory press conference will toe the line between unhinged and enlightening, but I'll tune in, and at the end, I'll wonder what the hell I just watched.