When the San Francisco 49ers beat the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football last night, fans were treated to a moment of rare greatness when Randy Moss tied Terrell Owens for fourth all time on the career touchdown list with a 47-yard grab and run in the third quarter. In a perfect example of a player past his prime but still possessing pure, simple speed, Moss reminded the NFL that while his number is rarely called upon at this point in his career, his speed is still lethal.
San Francisco is no stranger to outstanding receivers, with No. 1 on the all-time TD list belonging to Jerry Rice, and Owens a former 49er as well. (For the record, I would take Moss over two TOs and a Chad Johnson any day, but Rice is not up for discussion). Randy first laid a crushing block on a Michael Crabtree catch two plays prior in a case of lightning foreshadowing the thunder on first down. His short route that turned into a touchdown on third down was a reminder that Randy has more highlights from Monday nights than most players have from their entire careers. Simply put, his jets make opponents look like they’re running on fumes.
Quarterbacks are known to have a silent alarm in the back of their heads inside the pocket to avoid the oncoming rush. Defenses have a similar alarm clock on every snap until it’s whistled down by the refs. Think about it; the longer a play continues, the greater the risk of a defensive breakdown. When Moss catches the ball, it must feel like being woken from a nightmare by a house fire. Sirens wail, lights flash, and defensive backs are burnt. Some players make it rain. Moss reigns. Big, BIG difference.
I consider myself fortunate to have watched the entirety of his career, starting as a long-striding touchdown machine at Marshall to his participation in some of the greatest deep-ball theatrics the NFL has ever seen on the Minnesota Vikings teams of the 90′s, and his short but prolific stint with Tom Brady and the Patriots. His nose for the end zone makes the average secondary look like a group therapy session with a style that can can be summed up with the phrase, “Straight cash, Homey.” (Moss’ own words, taken completely out of context from years ago).
I didn’t have a skill set similar to Moss (something you and I have in common). Players with the game-changing ability of Moss are beyond rare. I struggle to think of any receiver since the 90′s who has displayed the same flat out speed and leaping ability. Sure, Megatron and Fitzgerald are the cream of the current NFL receiver crop, and names like Julio Jones and A.J. Green lead the next generation. But none of them possess the shocking speed to strike with the frequency Moss once did.
I was a member on offense at Simon Fraser University when we played the University of Manitoba one year almost a decade ago. Their defensive line was led by a senior named Israel Idonije. Where is he today? Playing his ninth year in the NFL with the Chicago Bears. In the second game of the preseason against the Washington Redskins this year Idonije recorded 2.5 sacks against rookie and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. He bagged another 2.5 sacks in Week 3 against the St. Louis Rams. Yup, still got it. I’m glad I played receiver and not offensive line.
When an offense plans for a player of absolute dominating calibre, every play called in the huddle is cued off his alignment. Idonije’s position first dictated how our o-line would double him, and then how the remainder of the play would be run. It’s a two-stage process on EVERY DOWN, one that starts with Idonije or Moss commanding the attention of at least two opponents, while the rest of the team hopes he doesn’t wind up in the end zone or backfield dancing like he’s on stage at his own concert. These are not the players you aim to stop but rather you hope to contain. But hope doesn’t make tackles, hope doesn’t open running lanes or stop a bull rush.
The only certainty about a player like Moss is the uncertainty felt by the players across from him every time he steps on the field. In the 14 years since he entered the NFL, he’s found the end zone 156 times. I’m sure the Arizona Cardinals knew of him coming into Monday night. I’m sure the rest of the NFL knows about him moving forward and will dedicate hours upon hours of film, scout team snaps, and have meetings discussing the Moss rules just as I’m sure he’ll score again before the year is over. How does he do it? In his own words after the game, “Great protection from the O-line… The quarterback delivered, I caught it, ran, had some blocks downfield. It was as simple as that.”
Simple? Take solace, Arizona. There’s no shame in being exposed by a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Nobody ever said simple was easy, even a decade and a half later.
He might be aging, but touchdowns never get old. And it’ll be decades before anyone strikes fear in opposing teams the way Randy Moss strikes gold, 156 times and counting.
Luke Purm is a freelance writer and former college football player (a wide receiver at Simon Fraser University) with an inside look at the sights and sounds from the huddle, down the field, through the air, in the endzone, under the pile, out of the locker room, on the scoreboard, and everywhere else football sweats, smells, yells, breathes and collides with life. Follow him on Twitter.