Sunday, April 29, 2007

'The Moss of old is back.'

Since I'm struggling to wrap my head around the notion of Randy Moss as a Patriot (I can't stand him! . . . But I love it!!), here are a few semi-coherent thoughts while relishing a damn fun weekend for a New England sports fan . . .

• First off, here's what I wrote about Moss back in October, when the rumors that he could be coming to Foxborough began swirling:

"Something tells me Tom Brady would punt Reche Caldwell to the curb and sign off on this in a heartbeat. Me, I'm intrigued . . . but wary. It's one of those rumors that as a fan, you get excited about even though common sense suggests you probably shouldn't. We all know Moss, for all of his talent, is a complete and total mutt. Those lobbying for the Patriots to deal for him will remind us that Corey Dillon was a malcontent in Cincinnati who has been a model teammate in New England (just ask Laurence Maroney), but Dillon's frustrations with Cincinnati primarily stemmed from losing. Moss strikes me as a player who couldn't give a damn about his team's place in the standings, and I know I'm not the only one who spent words the last few seasons telling people I'd rather have Deion Branch and David Givens catching passes (and blocking . . . and playing selflessly . . .) for my favorite football team than someone like Moss, or Terrell Owens, or any other members of the Insane Receiver Posse. I could talk myself into being excited about Moss becoming a Patriot. But it would take something the player himself too often lacks: effort."

Sixth months later, the most talented, enigmatic, downright-pain-in-the-ass receiver outside of Dallas really is a New England Patriot, and while I stand by every word I wrote back then, maybe it's not such an effort to approve of this trade after all. As we discovered during a conference call today in which Moss seemed truly awestruck by his new situation, there are fresh reasons to be optimistic that this might be a case of getting the right player at the right time. Moss said all the right things about his admiration for the Patriot Way, his respect for Brady, and his hunger to win a championship at this point in his career, and his nod to Troy Brown by saying he tells people he's the second-best receiver in Marshall University history is a nice start toward endering himself to his doubters. But perhaps the most telling sign that he gets it, that playing for the Patriots is important to him, is that he took a pay cut of approximately $15 million bucks to come here. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is - pro athletes nowadays don't sacrifice that kind of coin unless they are committed to the cause. It's more proof that the Patriots have accomplished Bob Kraft's stated mission: to become like the Niners of '80s, a championship contender every single year and the desired destination for talented veterans who are hungry to win. Further, I suspect that he has already been informed that if he doesn't bust his ass on every route, block when he's supposed to block, and avoid running over too many meter maids with his car, he won't be here long. Bill Belichick has never been afraid to discard a disgruntled player (Terry Glenn, 2001) or admit a mistake (Duane Starks, 2005, whom cost the Patriots more in trade than Moss did), and given the depth of the receiving corps, Moss is luxury rather than an absolute necessity. The Patriots have all the leverage in this partnership - there really is no risk here, unless you're one of those Baby-Ruths-in-the-pool who think he could actually have a divisive impact in a locker room full of veteran leaders capable of putting him hin place. Please. Right now, the Patriots have a giddy, hungry player who, judging by the reported 4.29 in the 40 he ran for Belichick recently, is committed to being the game's most unstoppable receiver again. If he can maintain that commitment through February, just give this team the Lombardi Trophy and get it over with.

• Leave it to Rodney Harrison to sum up the Moss deal without any b.s.: "I've always said, if he comes in, doesn't work hard and acts like a primma donna, it's not going to work. But if he puts the team first and works hard, he has the talent to do special things for us. It comes down to the small things, and buying into what we're all about here."

As Marshall's greatest receiver would say: Bingo.

• It became obvious with their willingness to unload their first-day picks that the Patriots thought the talent level was lacking in this draft. Which, after all the dealing was done, makes the Patriots' final haul from their 2007 draft picks look all the more impressive: Brandon Meriweather, Wes Welker, Randy Moss, San Francisco's first-round pick in 2008, Oakland's third-round pick in 2008 and a bunch of second-day picks. If my two favorite draftniks - Mel Kiper Jr. and WEEI draft maven Larry Johnson - don't give them an A+ for what they accomplished, then they aren't paying attention as much as they pretend to be.

• If you caught 'EEI's very special draft coverage this weekend, I'm guessing you realized I was being, well, a snarky dinkus regarding that LJ/draftnik line. From what I heard during my commute to Carl Everett's favorite newspaper Saturday, their coverage was predictably pathetic, from the mangled names (it's Vince WilFORK, not WilFOLK - geez, you'd think Johnson would know how to pronounce his favorite utensil) to an appaling lack of general knowledge (I'm pretty sure every specific comment they offered on a particular player came word for word from the ESPN Draft Guide) to idiotic opinions (the Patriots should draft Brady Quinn if he was available). It made me wish, once again, that I had the iPod hookup in the car, or that Felger's station had a signal better than a ham radio. What a disgrace.

• Other scattered thoughts from the draft: I cannot believe the Dolphins used the ninth pick for Ted Ginn Jr., an undersized receiver who wouldn't go over the middle if he was driving a Hummer. They trade Welker for a second-round pick, then draft a replacement who very possibly will be less productive in the first round. Brilliant. Something tells me the Pats won't have to worry about the Dolphins for awhile . . . Dallas made a killing by taking advantage of Quinn's slide and dealing the No. 22 overall pick to Cleveland for the Browns' No. 1 next year, which might well be the No. 1 overall. But I can't blame Phil Savage, Romeo Crennel and the Browns for making the swap, either. They're likely goners if Cleveland has another terrible season, so why not trade a pick that they may not be around to make, especially when it brings them a local hero who they probably considered drafting 19 picks earlier . . . I liked the Panthers' draft, getting Miami linebacker Jon Beason at No. 25 (I wonder if the Pats would have taken him at 28 if he was available), then USC receiver Dwayne Jarrett in the second round . . . I ran this by Mrs. TATB while watching ESPN's first-day coverage, and she agrees: Steve Young has more Botox in his forehead than the entire cast of "Desperate Housewives" . . . You say JaMarcus Russell, I say Akili Smith - big arm, questionable work ethic, bad situation. And why is it that Quinn reminds me so much of Joey Harrington, circa 2002? . . . The Giants are the perfect spot for Zak DeOssie: close enough for his old man to see him play (and for one of his former teams, too), and far enough away that we don't have to hear about it all the damn time.

• I don't know who it was who recommended Hideki Okajima to the Sox - I'm guessing it was Craig Shipley - but whoever it was deserves a little extra something in his paycheck. Okajima was almost an afterthought on the Sox' roster entering the season, the other, less talented newbie from Japan. But man, what a revelation he has been. He hasn't given up a run in 11 appearances, he's holding hitters to a .139 average, and most tellingly, he again shut down the Yankees this weekend even though they are now familiar with his stuff, having seen him a couple of times now.

• I've said it before and I'll say it again: Alex Cora is the best utility player the Sox have had in my lifetime. Every time Terry Francona puts him in the lineup, he makes the manager look smart for doing so.

• I still think the Yankees will get it together once their pitching staff returns to health, but I'm beginning to think Joe Torre may not survive the wrath of Georgie Porgie (provided he's not currently pulling a "Weekend at Bernie's" on us) to see that day. And frankly, I'm not sure how I feel about that. Torre receives (and deserves) much of the credit for the Yankees' success before the turn of the century, but judging from what I've seen this season (and in the postseason since 2002), his ineptitude at handling a bullpen puts the Yankees at something of a disadvantage against the game's better managers. I fear that Torre's firing, followed by the hiring of a superior tactician, might be exactly the jump-start the Yankees need.

• I'm with Wally. Sure, it's a great commercial, but the sight of Papi in a Yankees cap is revolting.

• As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

Chris Singleton, No. 55 for the Patriots in 1990, was taken eighth overall in that year's draft, three picks later than the man who wore No. 55 for last season, some dude named Seau. Should we mention that the Patriots could have had Seau 17 years ago, but they traded down to get Singleton and the equally legendary Ray Agnew? (Seriously, where else do you get this kind of minutiae?)

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