NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Randy Moss strolled to the podium on Super Bowl media day — his 49ers hat tilted slightly to the left, his sleeves rolled up high to reveal a cross tattooed on one arm, a large “R” tattooed on the other.
He carried himself very much like the star he once was.
“I don’t know how many questions I’m gonna give you,” he barked to reporters, before breaking into a smile. “So go ahead.”
Then, for the next hour or so, he was the center of attention — a role he seemed perfectly suited for, even though he kept saying over and over that he just wants to be treated like anyone else.
Moss proclaimed himself “the greatest receiver ever to play this game.” He urged all the coaches out there to listen to their players every now and then.
“I’m me,” Moss declared. “I just do it my way. That’s just how I feel. I don’t try to be better than the next man, or break any laws or any rules. Nothing like that. But what do I believe in? I believe in myself. That’s just the way I’ve always done it.
“I know,” he quickly added, “there’s some people out there who like me, and I know there’s a lot of people out there who don’t. For what reason, I don’t know and don’t really care.”
Moss was once the NFL’s most dominant receiver, but those days are long past. He’s 35 now, clearly on the downside of a career that actually seemed over a year ago. After bouncing around to three different teams in 2010, he didn’t play at all last season. But, he wasn’t ready to walk away from the sport just yet — and San Francisco gave him a chance to come back for another shot at the ring.
There was one big caveat: Moss would no longer be the center of the offense.
The 49ers had plenty of others — from receiver Michael Crabtree to tight end Vernon Davis to running back Frank Gore. Now that Colin Kaepernick has taken over at quarterback, it’s easy to forget that No. 84 is even on the field. Sure, Moss is savoring the 49ers’ run to the Super Bowl, where they’ll face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, but he’s still struggling to get his arms around the idea of being an afterthought on the field.
“I’ve always considered myself a playmaker,” he said. “Blocking? Yeah, I understand that’s part of the game. Me going out to be decoy? Yeah, I know that’s part of the game. But for me not to be out here making plays is something I just don’t understand.”
Then, he remembered why he’s here.
“If that’s going to win me a ring,” Moss said, “yeah, I accept that.”
He came oh-so-close during the 2007 season, teaming with Tom Brady to lead New England to an unbeaten regular season and two more wins in the playoffs. Then, in the game that really mattered, the high-powered Patriots were shut down in the Super Bowl by the New York Giants, who rallied for a stunning 17-14 upset after David Tyree — not Moss — made a catch that left everyone in awe.
It’s a game Moss has never bothered to watch on video. It’s a game that sticks with him to this day — and probably will forever, even if the 49ers win on Sunday.
“There’s just something about ’07, being undefeated going into a Super Bowl and losing it like that,” he said. “I’ll never forget that moment because it’s not fun when you’re sweating and you have confetti dropping down and sticking to your face and knowing that you’re not on the winning side of the confetti.”
Surely, someone asked, winning this time would ease the pain from five seasons ago.
Not so, Moss replied.
“If I win this one, that means I could have had two,” he said. “That’s something I’ll never forget.”
Moss’ last big season came with the Patriots in 2009, when he had 83 receptions for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns. The following year was a mess, largely of his own making.
His days in New England were numbered before the season opener when Moss complained about not getting a contract extension and said he didn’t feel wanted. After week four, he was traded back to Minnesota, his original team, but that didn’t last, either. Moss griped about then-coach Brad Childress and was waived, finishing out the dismal, miserable campaign in Tennessee.
Not surprisingly, no one jumped at the chance to offer Moss a job in 2011.
It looked as though retirement had arrived, whether he wanted it or not.
Moss used the off year to reconnect with his children, to get in some fishing, to watch some games on Sundays. But he also shed some tears, pained at the idea of ending his career before he was ready to go. He made sure to stay in shape, just in case someone wanted to give him another chance.
“I love this game of football so much,” Moss said. “I don’t like everything that comes with it, but going out on the field between the white lines and playing football is something I’ve always done. I’ve been doing it since I was 6 years old. For me to be able to just walk away from the game, knowing that I wasn’t ready, mentally or physically, it really hurt me, man. It really depressed me.”
Then came a call from the 49ers, who had come up just short of the Super Bowl during his season away. They felt Moss was one of those players who might help them get over the hump — not so much for what he could do on the field, but the impact he might have on the youngsters in the locker room.
Moss started only two games, finishing with 28 catches, 434 yards and three TDs. But he had the desired impact on Crabtree and Kaepernick, passing on his many experiences to those who will carry the franchise into the future.
“One thing that impressed me the most about Randy is the way that he works with all the other guys, and not even just the receivers,” 49ers fullback Bruce Miller said. “He’s so knowledgeable about the game of football that he coaches other positions and has all kinds of tips and reminders for everyone.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.