Wednesday, January 30, 2008 Updated: January 31, 12:51 PM ET
Randy was right to quit on the Raiders
By Jemele Hill Page 2
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Normally, I don't condone athletes giving up. But in Randy Moss' case, he was right to quit on the Oakland Raiders.
I bring this up because what happened with the Raiders continues to dog Moss' legacy, just as Kobe Bryant's seemingly self-imposed no-show against Phoenix in a deciding playoff game continues to indict him as a selfish player. Moss should be the No. 2 story of Super Bowl XLII. (Tom Brady is No. 1, of course.) But despite an impressive display of sincerity at Tuesday's media day, some people are still having trouble buying the new, wiser Randy Moss.
In the eyes of fans and more than a few sportswriters, Moss playing for a Super Bowl ring upsets the balance of the sports universe.
To many people, Moss is proof that sports karma doesn't always work. Despite giving a lackluster effort for much of his two years in Oakland, the stars aligned to send Moss to the best franchise of the millennium, which has put him one victory away from unprecedented history.
"I had to stay positive, but in the back of my mind, I didn't know if I would get here or not," Moss said.
I understand why Moss makes sports purists feel nauseated. He'd have probably stayed in the MVP conversation a bit longer had his Oakland days been further behind him. Fans will accept contract disputes, unproductive superstars, even lengthy championship droughts. But quitting on your team? That's always deemed unacceptable.
Yet, on rare occasions, there are exceptions. And Moss' situation with Oakland is one of them. Because the Raiders quit on Moss just as much as he quit on them.
There's no doubt Moss has been a different player for the Patriots.
Moss always has been emotional, and it's no secret he has struggled with handling losing with dignity, as evidenced by his tantrums over the years. "I approached the game, when I was young, very angry," Moss said. "Not at anyone in particular, just the game of football."
When Moss fled to Oakland from Minnesota, there were high expectations, since the Raiders were only two seasons removed from playing in the Super Bowl and Moss was considered a great talent. But frustrating injuries limited Moss' effectiveness. And bad coaching, questionable play-calling, working alongside fellow malcontents such as Warren Sapp and Jerry Porter, and failures at quarterback -- all this amounted to a Molotov cocktail for Moss, which resulted in the perennial All-Pro becoming disinterested and loathed.
"I'm a football player," Moss said. "That's what I do. Things really weren't going like I expected them to go. Not as an individual, but as a team. We had Derrick Burgess, Warren Sapp, a lot of guys that have names throughout this league. Expectations were high. Football wasn't a main priority around there."
How Moss handled things certainly was immature. But can anyone honestly blame him for feeling the way he did? People who hate their jobs don't give their all -- that's a simple reality. And usually the biggest reason people hate their jobs is because they aren't being inspired or developed.
Looking at the debacle the Raiders franchise has become -- and the wheels were in motion before Moss arrived -- is it unreasonable Moss wouldn't put it all on the line for that dysfunctional franchise? Just look at the problems the Raiders are having now with head coach Lane Kiffin, who seems to be lashing out the same way Moss did.
A gross amount of money and an excess of athletic ability doesn't prohibit athletes from feeling the same frustrations regular people feel. Moss was no different than the 9-to-5 guy who can't stand his idiotic boss.
When it comes to Moss' career with the Raiders, there's plenty of blame to go around.
Years ago, when Barry Sanders retired from the Detroit Lions via fax machine, a large number of Lions fans were angry at what they perceived to be a betrayal. Sanders never shorted his effort on the field, though he did pout at times. But he left the Lions soon after receiving an $11 million signing bonus and the biggest contract of his career. Many fans felt he should have stuck it out. But Sanders later admitted he retired as a healthy 30-year-old because he felt the Lions would never win. And to think, Sanders thought that way about the Lions before the Matt Millen era was in full swing.
Sanders knew he was too good to play for an organization that bad. He might have handled his situation more maturely than Moss, but ultimately they both realized their talent was far too great to be controlled by people who didn't know how to win.
That's why, when Moss said Tuesday he wanted to retire as a Patriot, I believed him. Call Moss a front-runner, but he essentially wants what all great players want: to play for an organization dedicated not only to winning, but to fostering his ability. Just ask Archie Manning if he would rather be known for nobly sticking it out with the struggling New Orleans Saints, or finishing as a champion.
Of course, Moss should be held accountable for his actions in Oakland (and Minnesota). But it shouldn't define his career, or be the reason people root against him in Sunday's Super Bowl. Moss has atoned for his behavior in Oakland, and it's obvious the Raiders had bigger problems than him.
Now, if you want to root against Moss because of his recent alleged domestic violence incident, or his other brushes with the law, that's fine. But getting indignant about Moss quitting on Oakland, given the reputation of that franchise, is like being upset if someone is unfaithful to Britney Spears.
Besides, Moss has made far more careers than he has destroyed. What was Daunte Culpepper without Moss? What about Brian Billick, who built a reputation for being an offensive genius because he coached Moss in Minnesota? Pre-Moss, people still had their doubts about whether Tom Brady was a great quarterback or just the product of a great system. No one says that anymore. With Moss, Brady became an MVP, and is in line to be regarded as the best quarterback of all time.
I'd say sports karma is working just fine.
Page 2 columnist Jemele Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.