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On this day, Moss can't shed coverage

Record-setting receiver Randy Moss hasn't exactly been a media darling this season, but he was animated when fulfilling his Super Bowl obligations with reporters yesterday. Record-setting receiver Randy Moss hasn't exactly been a media darling this season, but he was animated when fulfilling his Super Bowl obligations with reporters yesterday. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Email|Print| Text size + By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / January 30, 2008

GLENDALE, Ariz. - He arrived right on time to his appointed slot on the sideline, a towel slung over his neck to help ward off the morning's mild chill. Eighteen games into his stay with the Patriots, not to mention a decade of waiting for his championship chance, Randy Moss performed his Super Bowl Media Day duties to a tee.

Punctual, polite, animated, and sometimes even laughing, the oft-elusive Moss for one hour was a model citizen of NFL Nation.

"Well, do you know why I am talking a little bit more this year?" Moss said from his podium, one of the 11 media stations spread along the sideline. "Because the league sent me a note that said if I don't talk, they are going to fine me, so . . ."

So there he sat, and chatted, under the zipped-open roof of the cavernous University of Phoenix Stadium, site of Sunday's Super Bowl. The 30-year-old Moss rarely made himself available to the media this season, despite snaring a record 23 touchdown receptions. For the most part, he came, he caught, and he left the building, as fast as he could peel off that silvery Flying Elvis helmet.

When he finally opened up here, he not-so-subtly labeled himself the greatest wide receiver in the game's history. So much for having so little to say.

"Well, it was Jerry Rice," said Moss, who raised the name of the great 49ers pass catcher when asked to name the game's best receiver. "And I think that, you know, about the record I did break of his . . . [there] was definitely a whole lot of significance to that.

"I cherished the moment, but not really cherishing it to a certain level. I think that I knew what I had accomplished, and what was happening, and I really consider myself to really be passing that on, of possibly being the greatest receiver ever to lace 'em up."

Like some of his pass routes, Moss's words were a bit circuitous, especially when he tossed in that "possibly" qualifier. But when later asked to clarify his point, Moss staked his claim to No. 1 on the basis that he doesn't feel any receiver has faced the kind of smothering defensive schemes he has encountered, especially this season.

"I have studied a lot of wide receivers in my 10-year career, and even before that, as far as how they are being played, how teams are covering them," said Moss. "And to be able to see for the first time, you know, NFL teams' rolling coverages, in double and triple coverages, I was shocked - because I never knew what kind of coverage it was.

"Then when I started getting hit in certain coverages, then I started studying what coverages those were. So when I studied the coverages more, and tried to come up with plays to defeat those coverages - only one to ever do it."

History eventually will put him in his place, wherever that may be - no doubt the Hall of Fame, for starters. There is little argument that the high-flying, 6-foot-4-inch Moss added a dimension to this year's New England squad that didn't exist even on their three championship teams.

In the regular season, Moss provided a near-magical option for Tom Brady - good for 98 catches and 1,493 yards on top of those 23 TDs - and the double and triple coverage he demanded often opened up acres of space for the rest of the receiving corps.

In the postseason, in part because of all of the secondary's attention to him, Moss has barely been a statistical factor in New England's success. The Patriots stand on the verge of their fourth championship, and Moss has made but two catches in the postseason - a 14-yarder in the win over Jacksonville, followed a week later by an 18-yarder in the AFC clincher against San Diego.

Moss, the road to riches through December, has turned into the postseason road not taken.

How does that settle with him? Fine, he says. To his credit, he sounds believable.

"I think that we had a game plan to go out and make things happen," he said. "But once teams try to take a certain player out of the game, others must step up. The last couple of weeks, they've doubled me, tripled me, and it's been up to the other guys. It's a team sport. It's up to other guys to make things happen."

But barely seeing the ball? Once was the time that would have sent Moss seething to the sideline, hunting down the offensive coordinator, hectoring the quarterback. Now a member of the Foxboro School of Feel-Good Diplomacy, the man has some perspective.

"Early in my career, I would have voiced my opinion," he said. "Now, I've got [Wes] Welker, [Jabar] Gaffney, [Donté] Stallworth. Their minds and legs are fresher. I've never had a problem with what they are doing. If I can do anything, I am willing."

Even if doing anything means doing next to nothing.

One thing he has learned, said Moss, is that the march of time is inevitable. For a decade, he has made his livelihood as a sideline runner and cross-field slanter, and while not admitting he is injured, he sounded as if he is feeling his age these days. Call it cumulative wear and tear, along with being able to read the birth certificates that dot the rest of the roster.

"I run, so I know there's a lot of miles that have been traveled on these legs of mine," he said. "And, you know, to be able to go out and see how quick Wes Welker is, and Bam Childress and Stallworth and Gaffney . . . I still sit up here and joke with them every day that, you know, 'I am still the fastest, I am still the quickest wide receiver that we have.'

"But in all honesty, I know that your body, your skills diminish in a certain way, and the older you get, it just happens. And I know that those guys are younger and fresher than me. I don't mind playing alongside of them, which earlier in my career, you know, I had older guys playing alongside of me. So to be able to play alongside of those guys and come in every Sunday and do their thing, why not?"

One win away is one reason why not. His place in the game is another.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com

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