- Jackie MacMullan, ESPNBoston.com columnist
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So Randy Moss got what he wanted -- again. Doesn't he always?
The man who could have -- more specifically, should have -- gone down as the greatest receiver in NFL history was presented with a golden opportunity in New England, but he became so focused on securing himself a new contract, he forgot about everything (and everyone) around him.
Like, for instance, the fact he was lining up alongside Tom Brady, arguably the most complete quarterback in the game today. Or that he was playing for Bill Belichick, a brilliant, innovative coach who was willing to look past all of Moss' past transgressions, both on and off the field, so that he could flourish doing things the "Patriot Way.'' Both Brady and Belichick pledged public blind loyalty to Moss from the day he arrived in New England to his abrupt and shocking exit Wednesday morning, when his request for a trade was met by shipping him to the Minnesota Vikings for a third-round pick.
Had Moss been patient, or at the very least silent on the subject of his contract desires, this day might have been avoided. The Patriots didn't start out trying to unload him. When it became apparent their petulant receiver was focused on one thing, and one thing only -- show me the money! -- they figured they'd deal him now rather than watch him walk with no compensation at the end of the season.
It didn't have to end this way, but then, that's what we always say when Moss changes zip codes.
When Randy Moss looks in the mirror, he only sees one thing: a gifted athlete who is better than all the rest, who deserves to be pampered, praised and yes, above all, paid. It's apparent his gaze into that mirror is unwavering; why else would he force the hand of a football team that rebuilt his image, had his back (at least publicly) and featured him in tandem with one of the best quarterbacks of all time? His near obsession with his contract became the ultimate distraction, one he simply could not or would not overcome.
Naturally, in the wake of this rare midseason transaction, there will be the hunt for the smoking gun. Clearly, Moss was unhappy with his lack of touches this season, and sources told ESPNBoston.com he engaged in a verbal showdown with quarterbacks coach (and defacto offensive coordinator ) Bill O'Brien at halftime of the win over Miami.
Yet it's likely the relationship between the receiver and the Patriots deteriorated over time, just as it did during his first go-around with Minnesota and his tenure in Oakland. Randy, in case you didn't notice, has a tendency to wear out his welcome.
Make no mistake about it: In his first season in New England, Moss was spectacular. He arrived as a malcontent from Oakland with questions about his age, his effort and his durability. In short order, Moss put them all to rest. He was a game-changer. He was glib in the locker room, a good leader, a better teammate. The coach loved him, and the quarterback loved him more. He was productive, attentive, engaging, even record-breaking.
So what went wrong?
Over time, some of his former teammates hinted, Moss started to believe his own press clippings. He was the best, one in a million. He wanted preferential treatment. Veterans such as Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison, who had always kept Moss in check, retired.
We may never know the whole story, but it's clear Moss wanted to be compensated handsomely for the 3,904 yards and the 50 touchdown passes he produced in a Patriots uniform. When the team balked at immediately re-upping with him, particularly with potential labor unrest looming, the receiver felt disrespected. He even had the audacity to complain about his contract status while the Franchise himself, Brady, had still not inked a new deal.
Though we have only a short sample from the 2010 season to examine, it appeared as though the play-calling was steering away from Moss. That was due in part, no doubt, to the fact Moss was often double- and triple-teamed, helping to stretch the field and afford his teammates more opportunities to catch the football.
Sure, that helped the Patriots win games, but it wasn't going to benefit Moss as he approached free agency. Moss needed numbers, and we're not talking about wins.
Like Corey Dillon before him, Moss had a shelf life. The Patriots likely knew this day would come when they traded for him in 2007. There's only so much a coach, a teammate, an owner can take. At some point, every player is asked to give some consideration to the team ahead of their individual interests.
Randy Moss may have initially done that in New England, but he wasn't interested in doing it anymore. He was looking out for No. 1. His bizarre postgame news conference following the team's first win of the season against Cincinnati was steeped in self-indulgence.
And you wonder why he wasn't chosen as a team captain.
There's no doubt some Patriots players are upset Wednesday morning. Even though he was high maintenance, Moss made New England a better football team. It's like complaining about the aunt who talks incessantly at Thanksgiving dinner. She drives you crazy, but she's still family, and bakes the best pumpkin pie.
Now that Moss is someone else's headache, you will hear that he had lost a step, that he hated going across the middle, that he was a lousy blocker. You might even hear the Patriots are better off without him.
That may be true in the locker room, but not on the field. The team's most explosive offensive weapon is gone. His departure severely cripples the offense, even if Brandon Tate and Taylor Price are ready for prime time. His immense presence was undeniable.
And yet, as prolific as Moss was in a Patriots uniform, he never won a championship here. He certainly did his part in 2007 with a record 23 touchdown receptions, each one more acrobatic than the next. It wasn't his fault that Asante Samuel couldn't hold onto a sure game-ending interception in the waning moments of Super Bowl XLIV, or that David Tyree secured himself as an eternal One Hit Wonder with a leaping catch to help win it for the New York Giants.
But that doesn't change the fact that Moss has never won a championship. In fact, that trip to the Super Bowl in 2008 was the only time he's ever gotten there.
Had Moss been able to corral his ego and try to buy into the team concept, he could have retired a Patriot. He could have capped off a tumultuous and often unseemly career with a possible Super Bowl ring, and an association with Brady that would forever link them as one of the best one-two punches of their era.
The receiver will tell you it's not his fault he had to pull the plug. When Randy Moss looks in the mirror, he sees himself as a misunderstood man, a once-in-a-lifetime talent who never seems to get his due.
What I see is a rare talent with the championship size ego, but no trophy, no ring -- and no conscience.
Jackie MacMullan, who spent nearly 20 years as a beat writer and columnist in Boston, is a columnist for ESPNBoston.com.
Randy Moss could've, should've and would've but won't, thanks to his ego.