Super Bowl XLII: Moss ready to finish journey from misfit to Super hero
Wide boy who went to jail can add the gloss to New England's perfect season
Twelve months ago, after nine turbulent years in the National Football League, it appeared that Randy Moss's stone had run out of roll. The thrills and skills of the receiver who had catapulted the Minnesota Vikings to the brink of the Super Bowl in his rookie year with a string of "ridiculous" catches had apparently been crushed by two years in the NFL scrapyard known as Oakland. The only wideout in history to rack up more than 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons was considered a wild man that even the renegade Raiders could not tame.
The desperate general manager, Al Davis, accepted a fourth-round draft pick to rid himself of a misfit and Moss headed east to New England. By joining MVP quarterback Tom Brady's bunch, the 29-year-old heralded a new era of offensive excess culminating in the unbeaten Patriots' trip to Phoenix, Arizona, for tonight's Super Bowl against the New York Giants and a shot at joining the Miami Dolphins in the "state of perfection", a 100 per cent winning season. Along the way, Moss turned in a record-breaking season. Not just any old record, but one that had stood for 20 years, snatched in the last week of the regular season from the legendary former San Francisco 49er Jerry Rice with 23 touchdown receptions.
Week after week, the West Virginian glided past cornerbacks while appearing to be in second gear, and the trade which had offered Moss a shot at redemption started to look like the steal of the century; the Patriots had picked up a Cristiano Ronaldo on a free transfer.
A date in the desert was unthinkable when the 6ft 4in giant left the surfing shores of California. Moss, more notorious for making waves than riding them, was laden with the sort of baggage that could tear a team apart. Even before making it to the college ranks, a racially motivated fight landed him a 30-day suspended jail sentence and kicked into touch his dream of Notre Dame glory. In 1996, a positive marijuana test led to 90 days of incarceration.
That Moss was still taken in the first round in the 1998 draft was testament to his outsized talent and the plethora of records he had accumulated. However, he continued to stir up controversy, being fined $15,000 for verbally abusing corporate sponsors and $25,000 for touching an official. A simulated "moon" at Green Bay fans hastened his departure to the Raiders. But despite heading out west to the sunshine, Moss's production went south, resulting in a career low of 42 catches in 2006.
So how did the graceful gazelle with the knack of catching balls – sometimes single-handedly – turn 2007 into a year he will never forget? "When I was young I approached the game very angry," he admits. "It was not at anyone in particular, it was just the game of football. Now I still carry that same chip on my shoulder, but I do understand that I'm a little bit older.
"I really thought something special could happen in Oakland, but things started getting in the way with coaching and play-calling and players, so the team concept was screwed up. Not knowing if I would ever get up on this [Super Bowl] stage, I had to stay positive."
His ability to see the glass half- full has been further tested in the past month by a long-time female friend accusing him of "battery", resulting in a temporary restraining order. "I haven't really been thinking about that," Moss says. "I'm here for the Super Bowl, one of the biggest times of my life."
In a sign of growing maturity, Moss sought the counsel of his coach, Bill Belichick, when the latest controversy broke during the play-offs. Just focus on the game was the message.
The Patriots' pursuit of perfection almost unravelled before it began; in week one they were accused of breaking League rules by videotaping the New York Jets' defensive signals."Spygate" was an open-and-shut case, with the NFL commis-sioner, Roger Goodell, fining the team $250,000 (£126,000) plus their first-round choice in this year's draft.
It is the other half of the Big Apple facing Belichick's men tonight, the NFL's road warriors in the midst of a record 10 successive victories outside New York. In a typically turbulent season, suddenly their much-maligned quarterback Eli Manning is for once putting his brother Peyton in the shade.
Given added motivation this week by the pre-sale of a book entitled "19-0: The Historic Championship Season of the Unbeatable Patriots", the Giants will attempt to make good on their former general manager Ernie Accorsi's words. "There's a championship in this room," he said to his players during an emotional leaving speech a year ago. Alas, the Patriots are more likely to be his prophets of doom.
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