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Last goodbye

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  October 11, 2010 05:46 PM

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Well, now it all makes sense. Randy Moss is back in Minnesota, where he ran his first go-route toward Canton, because he had a grooming fight with Tom Brady.

It really shouldn't surprise us, I suppose. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of NFL lore is aware that this sort of stuff has happened since the days of leather helmets, drop kicks, and undiagnosed concussions.

You should hear Steve Sabol tell the story about the time Bronco Nagurski and Red Grange nearly bare-knuckle brawled to the death in the 1933 Chicago Bears locker room over a can of Burma Shave. It's mesmerizing.

Sorry, Charley. I mean, c'mon, if you think we actually believe that . . .

  • . . . this Brady/Moss incident actually happened.

  • . . . had it actually happened, Tom Brady wouldn't have laughed it off and defused it with his usual self-effacing humor, for his ability to make fun of himself and take just-one-of-the-guys verbal abuse has helped him remain a popular teammate despite being married to a supermodel and looking like that smirking fella in the J. Crew catalog you want to strangle with his $79 llama wool scarf.

  • . . . had it actually happened, it would have resulted in the massive overreaction of Moss being instantly expatriated to Minnesota as punishment.

Did Brady and Moss bicker from time to time? No doubt about it -- find me a quarterback and receiver who haven't. It's the nature of competitive sports, football in particular. Philip Rivers delivers a sneer with every pass. Peyton Manning shakes his head when Reggie Wayne drops one. Hell, I half expected Dan Marino to scream at Mark Duper and Mark Clayton during that ceremony Monday night, just for old times' sake.

mossfinn.jpgI think we've all wondered about the level of sincerity of Brady's relentless praise for Moss, whether it was about his football IQ or the effort he put in on the field and so on. I tend to believe at least a portion of it was done to keep Moss's healthy yet fragile ego well-maintained, just as throwing to him periodically when he was covered was done to keep him involved. Which, of course, is fine. It's what a smart quarterback does.

But the notion that the breaking point for Moss and Brady -- and perhaps the breaking point for Moss and the Patriots -- had anything to do with beards and haircuts is almost as foolish as that acorn-hoarding pelt atop Casserly's head.

Why did they trade him? Here is why, so far as I can deduce: He was unhappy with his contract situation, obsessed with his future, and to some degree, he was being a pain in the neck, whether it was listening to his earphones at a charity banquet, bickering with Bill O'Brien (who frankly, should absolutely be bickered with), providing bizarre, entertaining postgame soliloquies, or whatever else might have happened that we don't know about. Belichick realized it wasn't going to get better and Moss was en route to becoming insubordinate, had faith in the young guys on offense, particularly rising star Aaron Hernandez, and decided to swiftly eliminate the problem before it became a Problem.

If you've got a more logical theory than that, please do share.

Roughly 14,604 words (and, nearly, buckets of feuding sports-yakker blood!) have been spilled around here on the Moss deal since it officially went down Friday morning.

Let me throw a few more words into the pot while we wait to watch him make his debut with his new/old team, hopefully again leaving Darrelle Revis in a heap of wounded hamstrings ...

* * *

With the caveat that I haven't exactly been spot-on with my Most Likely To Implode predictions this year (the Jets are better than I expected . . . until Rex cries, then all bets are off!), I'm convinced this deal is going to be a spectacular failure for the Vikings. Think about it. They have a pushover head coach in Brad Childress. They have perhaps the game's finest running back. They have other very capable weapons such as Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe. They have a 41-year-old quarterback who has clamored to play with Moss for years, isn't exactly known for his wise decision-making, has never grown up, openly admits he will throw Moss's way when he's covered, and may no longer have the arm to reach him downfield. To put it another way: This sinking ship will relegate the time Fred Smoot tried to purify some friends in the waters of Lake Minnetonka to the second-biggest nautical embarrassment in Vikings history.

* * *

I should probably know better considering how much sports radio I'm required to listen to in the course of a week, but I never fail to be stunned and disappointed by the instant Belichick's lost it! yelping whenever he makes a roster move that is unexpected or against conventional wisdom.

You'd think his track record and the fact that he's turning over this roster on the fly while still winning more than he loses would buy him the benefit of the doubt. But it rarely does, which is puzzling and a little disappointing. It's really not that difficult to look at his history with controversial moves and realize that his success rate is pretty close to that of Adam Vinatieri in big moments. Consider his four most controversial moves with the Patriots (actually, letting Vinatieri go might be the fifth, and that worked too).

  • Traded Drew Bledsoe to the Buffalo Bills for a No. 1 pick. The yelp: How could they trade Drew within the division!? He's gonna haunt us for years! The result: Exposed Bledsoe time and again. Turned pick into Ty Warren.

  • Cut Lawyer Milloy. The yelp: He cut Loy-ah! He's hahhhtless! The result: One ugly season-opening loss in Buffalo in 2003. Back-to-back Super Bowls. The realization that Rodney Harrison (and for a too-brief time, Eugene Wilson) was pretty damn good.

  • Traded Richard Seymour to Oakland for a No. 1 pick. The yelp: Actually, even I was howling about this one, mostly because I'd just finished editing the 2009 Maple Street Press Annual and there were about a half-dozen pictures of No. 93 in the book. Grrr. So, yeah, I'll refrain from mocking here. The result: Seymour is decent for the Raiders, but the Patriots were not going to re-sign him and Vince Wilfork, and Wilfork, the anchor of the defense, was the correct keeper. And did we mention the Patriots have the Raiders' No. 1 pick next year?

  • Traded Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs for a second-round draft pick. The yelp: Vrabes and Matty? For a second-roundah! Why me??!! Why??!! (Yes, Nancy Kerrigan was crushed by the deal.) Result: Loved watching Cassel improve during his one season here, but he's been abysmal with the Chiefs and looks like a product of playing with Moss and Welker. Vrabel had 53 tackles and two sacks last year, and has eight tackles and no sacks this year. The second-rounder was used on Patrick Chung, who looks like a young Milloy, if not a young Harrison. The deal looks better with every passing Sunday.

The verdict: In Bill we trust. Yup. Still. And pretty much always.

* * *

The notion that the Moss-less offense will be similar to the share-the-ball approach the Patriots took in their championship years might be an obvious one, but if you compare the personnel, it really does sense. Wes Welker is very similar to Troy Brown, a slot receiver extraordinaire. Brandon Tate's skill-set is reminiscent of young Deion Branch's. (It's probably too much to expect old Deion Branch's to be reminiscent of young Deion Branch's, though I do love the deal). If you put aside his designation as a tight end and consider him for his pure receiving skills, Aaron Hernandez has some traits in common with David Givens, though he's a far superior talent with multiple Pro Bowl berths in his future. There's really no comp for Rob Gronkowski [update, 9 p.m.: Christian Fauria isn't a bad one, actually], but at running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis has the same straightforward approach as Antowain Smith. And the quarterback? You know his deal. It's going to be fun to see how this all works, because the pieces for a versatile, productive offense are in place.

* * *

From this perspective, the two most disappointing things about the Moss deal: 1) I wish they could have held out for a second-rounder from the Vikings. They were desperate, and I suspect Brad Childress generally leaves poker night with considerably less money than he arrived with. But I suppose that no other team apparently offered more than a No. 3 is telling regarding how Moss is perceived at this point. 2) I wish he could have taken the team-first approach and not let his fears about his next contract sabotage what Moss himself has often said was the best situation of his career. But then, he wouldn't be Randy Moss, tortured football genius, would he?

* * *

welker.jpgAnyone who worried that Wes Welker is going to struggle to get open with Moss no longer clearing out a safety is making the mistake of underestimating him, something Patriots fans should know better than to do at this point. Welker is a threat because of his precise routes and ridiculously quick cuts in a small amount of space. It's not as if he runs down the open field yelling, "Hey, Tom! I'm open! Yo, throw it here!" He works to get open, he's uncommonly skilled at doing so, and that's not going to change. To put it another way: The season before he was united with Moss in New England, Welker had 67 catches for the Dolphins. Their quarterbacks that season were Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon, and Daunte Culpepper. He's going to be just fine.

* * *

Just to emphasize the point, or if I haven't made it clear, I loved watching Moss play here. Loved it. For all of his quirks, he's a unique talent in NFL history, and in 2007 in particular, it was mesmerizing to watch him and Girl-Hair Brady do their thing. Further, those who suggest the Patriots' inability to win a fourth Lombardi Trophy during his three full seasons is conveniently overlooking the fact that he caught what coulda/shoulda/woulda been the winning TD pass with little more than two minutes left in Super Bowl XLII. Don't blame him for Asante Samuel's failures or David Tyree's miracle or Eli Manning's blind luck. He did his part and then some, and I only wish he could have let it last a little bit longer.

* * *

OK, before we depart and begin pregame festivities for what should be a wildly entertaining Monday night game (can't wait to hear Tirico and Gruden tap-dance around the Favre allegations), let's stretch out our willing suspension of disbelief and suppose there is a follicle of truth to Casserly's report. If Moss did give Brady grief about his hair, just imagine what Favre is in for when this football marriage inevitably goes bad.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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