The Patriots trade of superstar wide receiver Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings for a third-round draft pick represents everything I despise about NFL "conventional wisdom," the New England Patriots organization and their dyspeptic toad of a head coach, Bill Belichick.
For twelve years, the football media have derided Moss as a malcontent, a "diva," even a cancer. And yet, as the hate has been rained down upon his head with annual monotony, do you know who loves Randy Moss? Quarterbacks. Moss is the kind of singular talent who turns average QBs into Pro Bowlers, and Pro Bowlers into Hall of Famers. Just look at his history since coming into the league way back in 1998.
In Moss's first season he caught a rookie-record seventeen touchdowns on a Minnesota Vikings team that set the mark for most points scored in a season. His quarterback, Randall Cunningham, had the best run of his star-crossed career and was named Player of the Year. When Cunningham played poorly in 1999, his backup, the talented but bumbling Jeff George, was finally consistent, which he achieved by tossing up remarkable spirals that Moss snatched out of the air.
After George, Moss gave new quarterback Daunte Culpepper two of the best statistical seasons in NFL history. When Moss left the team for the Oakland Raiders, Culpepper's career left as well. The two years in Oakland were uneventful—as are most years in Raider-land—but when Moss signed with the Patriots, he showed that he was truly an all-timer.
The already accomplished Tom Brady had a season for the ages, throwing a record fifty touchdowns, with twenty-three of them going to Moss, also an all-time mark. That Patriots team broke the record of Moss's old Vikings team for points in a season. The presence of Moss opened the field for Brady to find underneath receiver Wes Welker who has more catches over the last three years than any player in the NFL. This is why Tom Brady recently called Moss the greatest deep threat in NFL history. This is why Brady is miserable today and Brett Favre is so elated you'd think they made Wranglers with an elastic waist. Favre has pined for Moss since the 1998 draft when he begged the Packers to take the Marshall University standout and then watched as Moss tormented the Pack for years.
That last word is key: years. For all the talk of the "mercurial Moss," his career has actually been one for the ages. Moss has the second most touchdown catches in NFL history and is still just 33 years old. The one receiver picked ahead of him in the 1998 draft, Kevin Dyson, hasn't played in seven years. And yet, despite twelve years of putting up Hall of Fame numbers and being the object of desire for every QB in the game, he is still branded a problem player.
Every team should have such problems. NFL writers who still beat this dead horse sound like geriatric country clubbers crying about the end of the gold standard.
We've seen this again in the wake of Wednesday's trade. Kerry Byrnes of Sports Illustrated, before the bags were even packed, wrote, "At the end of the day, the Patriots were a better team without Moss." He also dismissed Moss's impact, writing, "Wide receivers, even the all-time great wide receivers, are little more than shiny hood ornaments on NFL offenses." For proof of this, Byrnes looked at the Packer teams of the 1960s and the Steeler dynasty of the 1970s, pointing out that they lacked a dominant receiver. This is idiocy writ large and not just because, last I checked, Pittsburgh receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were in the Hall of Fame.
In today's NFL, where changes in the rules heavily favor the passing game, if you don't have a top receiving corps, you are not going anywhere. Instead of looking at the Canton Bulldogs, or whoever Byrnes was holding up as an example of wide receiver irrelevance, look at the last four Super Bowl teams: in 2009 it was the Arizona Cardinals led by receiver Larry Fitzgerald and the Steelers and their Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes. In 2010, the Saints and the Colts passed first and ran the ball just to keep the other side guessing.
But forget the stupidity that the Patriots are better without Moss. This is just another reason why the New England Patriots and their coach Bill Belichick deserve every last dollop of our collective contempt.
Over the last five years, Belichick has coldly disemboweled the team that won three Super Bowls in four years from 2001–2004. Remember their clutch kicker Adam Vinatieri, or linebacker Mike Vrabel, or Super Bowl MVP Deon Branch, or All Pro tackle Richard Seymour? They were all expendable. Other than Brady, the only surviving player is—now injured—running back Kevin Faulk, who has been on the team so long he must have pictures of Patriots owner Bob Kraft snuggling livestock.
For all the talk of Randy Moss being a narcissistic diva, it's really Belichick who believes that it's all about him. Until I see that cranky, diva hobbit run past Darrelle Revis and catch a touchdown with one hand, I will continue to think otherwise. As for Moss, he has the chance now to end his career in Minnesota where it all began. As he said to Vikings coach Brad Childress, "I'm just happy to be coming home." So is everyone in the land of ten thousand lakes. We should cheer the Vikings and jeer the Patriots for this move. But if you take a moment and listen very carefully, you can hear a very soft thumping sound. It's Tom Brady banging his head against a wall.
[Dave Zirin is the author of “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner). Receive his column every week by emailing email@example.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.]