Randy Moss once said, “I play when I want to play.”
It was his career in a nutshell, a summary of the greatest wide receiver of his era.
When he was good, he was excellent. When he didn’t care, he burned bridges and moved elsewhere, leaving more fodder for his critics.
Now he’s parted with yet another team, but this time there are no burning bridges, just a season of accolades and compliments from 49ers teammates who considered him an elder statesman and a consummate professional who helped San Francisco reach its first Super Bowl since the Steve Young era.
This past weekend, Moss tweeted: “Wished we could’ve finished the job!! Thanks for the opportunity an good luck in the future 9ers.”
Though 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said in the run-up to the Super Bowl that he hoped Moss would return for the 2013 season, that isn’t going to happen.
The 36-year-old Moss – with 982 catches and 156 TDs – will play elsewhere in 2013.
But the 49ers got just what they wanted from Moss. Harbaugh’s gamble in bringing him onto the roster was a winning one.
The 49ers signed Moss to a one-year deal last spring, hoping he could not only contribute on the field, but help be a leader off it as well. Though Moss had just 28 regular-season catches for 434 yards and three TDs, he helped stretch the field when he was on it and consistently contributed to the improvement of young wideouts such as Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams off it.
He said all the right things and did all the right things.
Crabtree, who had a breakout season in 2012 with 85 catches and his first 1,000-yard year (1,105, with nine TDs), told reporters before the Super Bowl that, “He (Moss) plays a big role (on this team). You are talking about Randy Moss. He is a legendary wide receiver. His voice alone gets you hyped. Him being around just brings the best out of us.”
Crabtree said Moss’s input was constant, from the way he drove himself in offseason workouts to his advice.
“It’s every day,” said Crabtree. “It’s in the locker room and on the field.”
Said safety Donte Whitner, to the New York Times: “Randy is one of the reasons that Crabtree has really developed this year.”
But the 49ers will move on without Moss, and should easily be able to replace his production. With Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams returning from injuries, with the hope that 2012 top pick A.J. Jenkins matures and with as many as 15 draft choices to use to upgrade the roster, the 49ers should be able to go into 2013 with a stronger receiving corps.
But the Randy Moss experiment was a success, and perhaps it will continue to pay off in the future as Crabtree and his mates use some of the things they learned in 2012 from Moss, who decided in 2012 to play.
This time, all the bridges he leaves behind are strong ones.
Said Williams: “He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had – that any of us has ever had.”