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Randy Moss Retires: The Legacy of an NFL Great

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In a statement from his agent, Joel Segal, NFL great Randy Moss has announced that he’s retiring after 13 seasons in the league.

Though word had been circling that Moss was in better shape than he has been in years (keeping in mind that said word came from Segal), and that he’d hoped to come back strong after his worst season ever, the news that he’s making his exit from the game comes with little surprise. ESPN’s Bill Simmons said it best, tweeting in response to the report that “Randy Moss just announced that he retired a year ago.” Splitting 2010 between the New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans (and, some would argue, the sidelines, where he was a firm staple during all three stints), Moss collected just 28 receptions, 5 TDs and less than 400 yards last season. Rather than risking another equally embarrassing showing in 2011 however (with “risking” being interchangeable with “likely diving head first into” in this scenario), the decision to step away from the game seemingly comes as a wise one. Yet while the short term taste of Moss’ inability to focus on the game and reclaim his place as one of the NFL’s elite receivers still lingers, history should prove that he was one of the best that the game has ever seen. A few quick statistics:

• (3) 17+ TD seasons (an NFL record)
• 153 career TD receptions (2nd all time)
• (10) 1000+ yard receiving seasons (2nd all time)
• 14,858 receiving yards (6th all time)
• 4-time All Pro
• 1997: Heisman Trophy nominee
• 1998: Part of the Vikings’ offense which scored an NFL record 556 points (later eclipsed by the 2007 Patriots, another team which Moss was part of)
• 1998: 17 TDs (an NFL rookie record)
• 2000: Set Pro-Bowl receiving record (212 yards)
• 2007: 23 TDs (an NFL record), including (8) 2+ TD games (also an NFL record), helping the Patriots on their way to a 16 game winning streak

One of the most unfortunate aspects of Moss’ history comes with his time away from the football field however, where the perennial superstar was unable to keep himself in check. Despite a noteworthy college career, the Vikings were able to scoop Moss up with the 21st overall pick in 1998 as NFL clubs balked at his reckless history (including a 1996 jail sentence and subsequent probation violation). In 2001 Moss tested positive for marijuana, which violated the NFL’s substance abuse program. In 2002 Moss again made headlines when he “bumped” a traffic control officer with his car in downtown Minneapolis after she had instructed him to stop before completing a what-would-have-been-illegal turn (resulting in a misdemeanor traffic violation). But further to his off-field antics, as Moss’ career wore on his dwindling work ethic and questionable on-field behavior began to take precedent over his wild abilities.

During the last game of the 2004 season Moss walked off the field as the Vikings were losing, leading critics to call him out for stranding his teammates. He would later be criticized by former Raiders coaches for his lack of effort during his two-season stint with the club, and continually haunted by fans and the media for his decreasing relevance as a play-maker on the field. Oh, and who can forget this?

Moss was great at what he did, and had his head been firmly on his shoulders he might have developed into the best receiver that football has ever seen. But with his antics both on and off the field tarnishing his game-play and his increasingly obvious tendency to call-in plays (obviously interrupted by a single career defining season from a team which he was a key member of), Randy Moss’ legacy will likely be one of someone who had the ability to become legendary, yet one ultimately marred by the resolve of a quitter.