By Sterling Pingree
The Patriot Way is an efficient machine. It’s a machine that’s been turning since the Millennium because of Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft. Some would call it a ruthlessly efficient modern marvel that at the same time marries the 19th century industrial complex with the intricate finances and salary cap structures of the 21st century National Football League. Belichick’s machine runs like a steel mill in 1930 because of its blue collar nature, workman-like ethos and because of the heat that everything Foxboro produces seems to generate. In such a grim setting, the trade off is one that Patriots fans have long agreed to: championships and winning are more fun than flash, flair and defeat.
For a period of time however, from 2007 thru 2009, the Patriots had both. In what can only be compared to your blue collar dad coming home from his accounting job driving a Ferrari, Bill Belichick traded for Randy Moss and for just over three years we got to enjoy the most exciting Patriot ever.
At the start of the 1998 NFL season, I was vaguely aware of Randy Moss. I was 12-years old, growing up in Maine where college football isn’t popular and I’m pretty sure a Marshall game had never aired except for perhaps via satellite dish. Thanksgiving 1998 was to be my introduction to “The Freak”. (Which by the way, there were a lot of athletes around this time nicknamed the “The Freak”. Javon Kearse of the Titans had it too, with Y2K coming, I don’t think we were very imaginative when it came to nick names and seemed completely okay with stealing them from the backs of And1 t-shirts.)
On Thanksgiving, Moss was incredible: 3 catches, 163 yards and 3 touchdowns. Watch the highlights of this game here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWGKmOVIcTc and watch as Moss torches the Dallas secondary in just about every way possible. This was a player you had to watch, this guy was the most exciting player in the game not named Barry Sanders. (Sanders and Moss only shared the league for the 1998 season.)
Even in the Bledsoe era which featured fun players like Terry Glenn and Curtis Martin, we never had guys like Randy Moss. We never had guys who got all the attention on Sports Center or made magazine covers. That was true of most Boston athletes, sure Larry Bird was on the cover of Sports Illustrated a lot, but having posters on your wall of someone shooting a fundamentally sound set shot isn’t cool, Michael Jordan dunking on Patrick Ewing was cool. Having an all-time defensemen like Ray Bourque was great, but he didn’t draw crowds like Gretzky.
So it was with great surprise that the Patriots, during day two of the 2007 NFL Draft, traded a 4th round pick (110 overall) to Oakland for Randy Moss. Now, Moss hadn’t been Moss during his 2 years in the Silver and Black but with Tom Brady and the super team that Bill Belichick was building, anticipation was still high. In his first season in New England Moss caught an NFL record of 23 touch downs, while Brady set the NFL record for touchdown passes with 50. It was one of the most stunning regular seasons we’ll ever see because the Patriots were running up the score, Brady was chucking it deep and regardless of how many DBs were hanging off of his arms, Moss always brought the ball in. He was a freak, the likes of which we’d never seen in the uniform of the home team in ANY of the Boston teams.
It’s hard to believe when you think back, that the prolific duo of Brady-to-Moss only played together really for 2 seasons, 2007 and 2009. Moss’s time in New England didn’t end well when he was traded 4 games into the 2010 season after petty blow ups in the locker room about not getting the ball enough. Now that Moss is retired and going into the Hall of Fame, it almost seems like a dream that Moss was ever here at all. All of the highlight reels being shared on social media ahead of this weekend’s festivities only act as a reminder that at one time, the Patriots had the most exciting player in football.
The first Patriots game I ever went to was during that 2007 season. It was the Sunday nighter against Philadelphia. Before the game, my lifelong pal Zach Charles and I found ourselves in the make shift pro shop as the Hall of Fame/Pro Shop that we know now was being constructed (seems appropriate right?) and a wall of jersey’s stood before us. To commemorate this maiden voyage, even though it seemed foolish to spend way too much money on something that in the world outside of Patriot Place would cost a fraction of what they were charging, we had buy one anyway. With every player’s jersey available, from Tom Brady to Logan Mankins, I picked a blue Randy Moss jersey and Zach went with the throwback red Moss. Why did we both pick Moss? Maybe as a tangible reminder that what we were seeing was real after all.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.