Boston might not be the greatest city in the world. Maybe on the whole, we don’t excel at many things. But there is one part of our rich, cultural tradition no one can take away from us: We’re as good as it gets when it comes to stupid, petty, senseless pro sports-related conflicts.
The Art of the Pointless Beef among sports figures is to Boston what pasta is to the Italians. It might have been invented elsewhere, but we’ve sure as hell perfected it.
Need examples? How far back do you want to go? How about Ted Williams vs. the newspapers? Or Yaz vs. just about everybody? Billy Sullivan had a nasty falling out with Chuck Fairbanks. Harry Sinden fired Don Cherry for the crime of being a great, wildly entertaining coach. Haywood Sullivan and Buddy LeRoux both claimed they owned the Red Sox at the same time. Robert Kraft and Bill Parcells breakup was $100 million in legal fees and one bodyguard sex allegation away from being the McCourt divorce. The Theo Epstein-Larry Lucchino marriage has all the warmth of the nuptials of Don and Betty Draper.
And in and among those struggles, there have been hundreds of other conflicts of varying significance between players, coaches, owners, the media, bloggers, fans — and, of course, politicians. Add some horses, wooden chairs and Dom DeLuise, and the last 70 years of Boston sports could be the last ten minutes of “Blazing Saddles.” Because silly, protracted pissing contests are a time-honored tradition around here.
But of all the stupid, time-consuming, pointless personality clashes of recent memory in this town, none has been stupider, consumed more time or made less of a point than the one going on right now between Randy Moss and his army of detractors.
And make no mistake, this is your classic Gifted Athlete vs. the Boston Media contretemps. The only things we manufacture in this city are quality lagers, razor blades and ballplayer/media fights. It goes back generations. And it doesn’t seem to matter that Boston’s Athlete-Ripping industry went Rust Belt on us decades ago. Or that Teddy Ballgame became a beloved national treasure long after the guys who made a living tearing him down died forgotten and alone in their apartments full of Chesterfield cartons and used typewriter ribbons. Because picking fights with ballplayers equals ratings and ad sales.
How else do you explain the ridiculous cockfight that Dan Shaughnessy started with Curt Schilling? Schill came to Boston vowing to win a championship. In one of the all time great clutch performances, he delivered. Then helped win another. And in that time he was gracious, classy and articulate. In other words, he was the antithesis of the athletes Shank tossed bombs at his whole career. But that didn’t stop him from going after Schilling like a Curly Haired cyborg from the future programmed to kill.
Because that’s what much of the regional press here does. All it does. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until your reputation is dead. If you’re a great athlete, that is. Nobody wastes column space going after Brian Scalabrine. But the better you are, the bigger a target you are. It’s ironic, but it’s true.
Which brings us back to Randy Moss. Moss is the current hard target of choice. As lightening rods for criticism go, he’s Bishop Pickering getting 50 million volts down the shaft of his putter. And for the life of me, I don’t get it.
Moss came to Foxboro like a transfer student with a bad reputation, and there’s nothing he can do to change the perception. We were told there were all sorts of heinous things in his permanent record. He disrupted classes. Sulked. Talked back. Didn’t study. Cut classes. Got teachers fired. And we were going to rue the day we ever accepted his credits.
But nothing could be further from the truth. If you were to draw up a best case scenario back when they traded for him on Draft Day, 2007, it would exactly like what we’re living. OK, plus three or four more Super Bowls, but that’s hardly on him.
I mean, what more can we reasonably ask of the unoriginal 81? He took a massive pay cut to come play here. He set an NFL touchdown receiving record in his first year. His worst statistical year was 2008 when he only managed to squeak out 1,008 yards and 11 TD’s with Matt Cassel (career passer rating 79.3) getting him the ball. He’s appeared in every game since he came to New England, 51 in all. And in that span he’s got mind-blowing 50 bloody touchdowns. Last year he was accused of dogging it, quitting on his team, not playing hard and having generally down season. It’s enough to make you wonder what the critics would have said if he hadn’t led the league in touchdown catches with 13. But to offer some perspective, in his Hall of Fame career, Michael Irvin never had that many.
I’ve heard Moss blasted over the airwaves for supposedly not showing up in playoff games … in spite of the fact that he caught the go-ahead score in the Super Bowl. The fact that I just had to type the words “go-ahead” instead of “game-winning” is something that still has me on Post Traumatic Stress meds. And we can all blame the fact that Asante Samuel has the hands of a Jiffy Lube mechanic for it. But not the guy who actually stepped up and made a play when his team needed him most.
Currently running on the NFL Network is “The Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players.” And Randy Moss is rated No. 65. As the name would imply, that’s overall. As in NFL history. There are 32 teams in the league, each with 53 players. The NFL has been around since 1920. Allowing for expansion and so on, by my calculations that means there have been somewhere around 150 bajillion players in league history. And out of all of them, Randy Moss is 65th best at any position.
The Moss segment on the show is remarkable for several reasons. The obvious one being his incredible highlight reel of catches. The grab he made last week in New York, when he released the Dharma Initiative blast of energy and sunk Revis Island, wasn’t among the best 20 of his career. (My personal favorite is the one he made for the Pats in Miami, when he was wedged in between two defenders in the end zone, freed his hands and secured the ball against his hips while the defensive backs toppled over like bowling pins and Moss calmly walked over and handed the ball to the official. One of the best subtle “Eff You’s” ever.) Another amazing moment in the segment is when they make the point that Moss was the leading scorer on the two most prolific offenses in NFL history, the 1998 Vikings and the 2007 Patriots. That’s not coincidence; it’s cause and effect.
But the other element that comes through on Moss’ “Top 100” feature is the commentary by Brian Billick, his coordinator in Minnesota. Billick can barely disguise his dislike for Moss. All his compliments come with the backhand of Rafael Nadal. Randy is talented. He’s gifted. He’s a natural athlete. Almost nothing about how hard he works or how his production helps a team. And certainly nothing truthful like, “Let’s face it. If Randy’s not on my Vikings team, I never get that Baltimore job and I’d be coaching some Division I-AA college team instead of talking to you.”
Again, why? What is everyone’s beef with Randy Moss? For his off-the-field stuff? Again ... why? What was his crime that makes him so universally harped on? Because he once fake mooned the crowd at Lambeau? After they had real mooned the Vikings team bus? Or admitting years ago he sometimes smokes weed? Bill Lee told Major League Baseball he puts it on pancakes and became a cult legend that lives to this day. Kevin Faulk got caught with a joint at a Li’l Wayne concert and we all shrugged. Partly because we love him and he’s a class act but also because we know no one would ever enjoy a Li’l Wayne concert straight. (Note: I do not condone the use of marijuana by anyone. Except cancer patients from California. Hugs not drugs.)
Honestly, what is Randy Moss’ worst career offense? His capital, Class A felony? Pushing a meter maid with his car? Is there one among us who ever parked in Boston who doesn’t think he deserves a medal for that? (Just kidding. Leave my car alone, please.) The worst thing Moss has ever been accused of was a total lie. When a female friend of his said he pushed and hit her during the 2007 playoffs, a story she later admitted to making up. The lack of truth didn’t stop ESPN from doing wall-to-wall coverage of the story. Years later they would refuse to even report the Ben Roethlisberger rape allegation (not that one, the other one), citing a “lack of evidence.” Like I said, Moss is a big iron pole in a lightening storm.
So this year the beef is that he’s made some comments about how he’s happy in New England and wants to stay. Oh, the horror. Get to the storm cellar. What will become of us? Whatever shall we do?
Well, I know what I’m going to do. And it has nothing to do with griping my way through the career of one of the great athletes to ever come through Boston in my lifetime. This is one athlete/media conflict that makes no sense on any level and I am officially tuning it out for good. And God willing Randy Moss will stick around to fight it out for many years to come.