His legs were gone. Remember that? When the New England Patriots acquired Randy Moss from the Oakland Raiders in April 2007, that was the first rumor headed east not far behind him. It was said that Moss had left the best parts of his legs in Minnesota during his seven years with the Vikings. There were chunks of vastus lateralis and rectus femoris lying all around the Metrodome. (Be careful when you order a hot dog there. You never know whatís in it.) The funniest thing about all these very reliable anonymous rumors was, of course, the fact that they emanated from a franchise owned and operated by Al Davis, whoís been a Kelloggís Variety Pack of crazy for nearly a decade.
Make no mistake. Randy Moss didnít get traded from Oakland. He got rescued. And just in the nick of time, too. You may have noticed that Davis himself called a press conference last week and announced that he was firing his 12-year-old coach, whose name, I believe, was Skippy. Skippy failed to heal what was wrong with the Raiders, possibly because he was neither the late Vince Lombardi nor St. Bernadette of Lourdes. So, out went Skippy, and the Crypt Keeper embarked on his latest rendition of the old Charlie Rich lament, ďWho Will the Next Fool Be?Ē Now, of course, over a year later, one of the voices in Alís head is making noises about New Englandís having tampered with Moss prior to the deal. Tampering? The Patriots broke Moss out of that asylum. Itís a wonder there arenít 50 Raiders digging tunnels under the practice field even as we speak.
Nevertheless, a year ago, one of the other voices was whispering that Moss would run onto the field in New England looking like some unholy combination of Wilford Brimley and Long John Silver. This was, ah, not entirely the case. He was scary good last year, what with the 23 touchdowns and the 1,493 receiving yards, and the fact that his 6-yard touchdown catch on a certain night in February would have been the game-winner had not David Tyreeís head held on to a football more securely than Ty Warren held on to Eli Manning. Randy Moss was a minute and change away from being a Super Bowl hero.
But, more to the point, that whole business about his legs being shot turned out to be complete flapdoodle. In the first game of last season, Moss caught a 51-yard bomb from Tom Brady on which he seemed to be a little bit ahead of two New York Jets at about the 5-yard line. By the time the ball got there, he was a clean four steps past them. It is that last gear, what seems almost to be a gliding gear, that makes Randy Moss a very different kind of good than most wide receivers. It is not an exaggeration to say that, except for Larry Bird, there hasnít been an athlete in Boston whose athletic gifts were so superior to those of most of his contemporaries than are those of Randy Moss to those of the rest of the receivers in the NFL. Itís not that heís big, or strong, or even fast. Most NFL wideouts are all of those. It is that he is big and strong and fast in a startling kind of way.
His talent is vivid and immediate and surprising. As with Bird ó and, to a lesser extent, both Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez ó you watch Randy Moss confident in the knowledge that you might just see something youíve never seen before. Almost a year ago, for example, he squared up in the end zone to catch a 35-yard touchdown against the Dolphins. From either side, Miami defensive backs Renaldo Hill and Cameron Worrell closed in on him. Moss caught the ball, and the two defenders seemed to fall away from him as he came down. It was almost as though they hadnít made contact. The whole play looked like something David Copperfield might try on stage with an elephant. When Moss is at his best, there is a creativity, almost a kind of physical imagination, to the way he plays the game.
This season, of course, everything changed when Bernard Pollardís head met Tom Bradyís knee. Pressed into service, backup quarterback Matt Cassel has been handed the syllabus a few pages at a time. All of which required some adjustments on Mossí part. He and Cassel have to get to know each other, and Cassel has to do it while gradually gaining the general confidence he needs to be a starting NFL quarterback for the rest of the season. There was some turbulence during the overall stink bomb that New England dropped against Miami. (By the way, NFL defensive coordinators? If Ronnie Brown scores one more touchdown on that direct-snap thingamabob, youíre all idiots and should be fired. Thank you.) There was even some mumbling from knee-jerk professional contrarians about how the adversity would cause the old, recalcitrant Randy Moss to reappear. (I mean, he sat alone on the bench? Caddy, my smelling salts!)
However, early in Sundayís game against San Francisco, the real, old Randy Moss reappeared. He got between Nate Clements and Walt Harris of the 49ers. Clements stumbled for just half a step, and that gliding gear kicked in again, and Moss was gone for 66 yards on a play that looked like someone had jacked around with the film halfway through it. He stopped before he got to Oakland, thank God. You can only escape so many times, after all.
OT columnist Charles P. Pierce is a Boston Globe Magazine staff writer.
This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports