Ronald Guy
Author

Judging Santana Moss And Those That Toil

Jul 30, 2014 12:30 PM EST

Nursery rhymes, jewelry, a pawn shop, vague references to the Sex Pistols, cheesy movie lines, Santana Moss and NFL legacies make for a wail of a sports article. Trust me … at your own risk.

Championships are to sports what the hokey pokey is to nursery rhymes: what it’s all about (You are humming it now, aren’t you? Don’t be shy. Go on with your bad self. Right foot in, right foot out. Read on if you can; pause and dance if you must). Post-game parades shut down major cities, fancy ring ceremonies are held, and unforgettable memories are made. Champions shoot commercials, buy bigger cribs and date only the most visually pleasing. The Harrison boys of Pawn Stars can’t get enough championship bling for their showcases. Dorothy Boyd completed Jerry Maguire; rings complete professional athletes. Fans of champions defiantly wear team gear to church, dominate the conversation in the coffee mess and get you’ll-regret-that-later tattoos.

So championships are a hoot of a time — they are why athletes sweat, coaches neglect families and fans burn money and time they don’t have. But does the presence of a ring on an athlete’s finger inequitably alter perceptions of his career?  

The burgundy-and-gold clad professional football team in Washington that awkwardly represents Native Americans (do you see how ridiculous this is getting, Dan Snyder?) needed help at wide receiver this offseason. Sure, Pierre Garcon caught 113 balls last year — a franchise single-season record — but the next leading receiver, TE Jordan Reed, managed only 45 receptions. Yikes. That screams of a passing game that was Garcon and a handful of warm bodies. Tough to defend? Not exactly. “God Save the Queen” and an option-less Robert Griffin III.

Recognizing the deficiency, the ‘Skins acquired WRs Andre Roberts and Ryan Grant via free agency and the NFL Draft, respectively. Incumbents Leonard Hankerson, a third-round pick in 2011 who is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, and the prodigal son Aldrick Robinson, a guy that is capable of getting deep on anyone but disappears for weeks at a time, are also in the mix. Throw in a few token undrafted free agents and you suddenly have a crowded depth chart. 

The obvious omission to that rapid wide receiver roll call is the venerable Santana Moss. This season, assuming he lands on the roster, will be Moss’ fourteenth in the NFL and tenth in D.C. While Moss has held off challenges from younger receivers the last few seasons, this year looks to be his steepest test. Garcon, Roberts and Jackson are roster locks. Grant, due to his draft status, is likely to be one of the final 53 as well (he would be eligible for the practice squad, but that seems a dicey proposition for a fifth-round pick). Hankerson, for all his maddening inconsistency, does bring size to an otherwise diminutive case of wideouts. He could start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list (a designation I qualify for every Monday morning when the alarm goes off), though, thereby freeing up a roster spot, albeit temporarily. Robinson, with no ties to head coach Jay Gruden, appears the most vulnerable of the incumbents not named Moss, particularly if he can’t figure out a way to run something other than a go-route. In Jackson, the team has secured perhaps the best pure burner in the game. 

That is a long way of saying Moss will wrestle with Hankerson, Robinson and a hodgepodge of training camp fodder (no disrespect meant to Jerry Rice Jr.) for two or three roster spots. So Moss, the longest-tenured player on the team, has a chance. Considering the possible end of his employment in D.C., though, doesn’t inspire much emotion. It would be nice if he makes the team, I supposed. But if he doesn’t? Oh well.  

“Oh well?” What kind of epitaph is that? Doesn’t Santana Moss deserve more than an “oh well?” He has played nearly a decade in D.C. He is third in team history in receptions, trailing only Hall-of-Famers Art Monk and Charlie Taylor. Moss is fourth in all-time receiving yards, behind Monk, Taylor and nationally under-appreciated Gary Clark. He holds the franchise’s single-season record for receiving yards (1,483 in 2005). He is one of the last roster connections to Joe Gibbs and Sean Taylor. I will personally never forget his index, middle and pinky fingers up, ring finger down “No. 21” salute to his slain teammate.

Moss quickly proved he possessed another trait that would endear him to ‘Skins fans: a penchant for being a thorn in the side of the Dallas Cowboys. ‘Skins nation won’t soon forget 2005’s “The Monday Night Miracle”: two improbable, long touchdowns by Moss late in the fourth quarter that converted a depressing 13-0 hole into a 14-13 victory on Monday Night Football, on the night The Triplets — Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin — were immortalized in the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor. Somewhere Dallas S Roy Williams is still chasing Moss’ ghost. And no one spins a football better after a big play than Moss. I’ve been trying for nine years now to duplicate the move. It is hopeless. I’m tapped out.

So where’s the outpouring of love for Moss? The accolades? The discussion of his lofty place in team history? The sadness engendered by his pending departure? Why doesn’t the possible end of his career in Washington bother me to the core?

I don’t know. There’s your answer.

All of this should be taking place — I think. Look, Moss has done a lot in Washington, but it’s what he hasn’t done that plagues his legacy. He hasn’t sniffed a championship. He has played for several coaches and with multiple quarterbacks while toiling on mostly bad-to-mediocre teams. He was, too often, the best of the worst — the lone offensive weapon in an anemic attack.

Okay, fine. But few have climbed Mount Champion. Further, wide receiver is a dependent position. To catch a football, the coverage has to be right, the offensive line has to block, and the quarterback has to deliver the ball to the right place at the right time. Stated differently, wide receivers don’t win championships, they contribute to them. They are not fulcrums between wins and losses; they nudge the needle in one direction or another. Would Santana Moss have had a fist full of rings if he was part of Gibbs 1.0 and not Gibbs 2.0? What if he played in Indianapolis with Peyton Manning or in New England with Tom Brady instead of in Washington with Patrick Ramsey, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins and Donovan McNabb? Wouldn’t he have some valuable jewelry? Wouldn’t he be headed to the Hall of Fame? Probably. But he didn’t.

Am I supposed to add a layer of sympathy to my analysis of Moss’ career? If that’s the case, should I consider Archie Manning and Steve Bartkowski among the greatest quarterbacks of all time? What about Ken Anderson? Should Charlie Joyner and James Lofton be in the conversation with Jerry Rice? What about a guy like Roy Green? Maybe Maurice Jones-Drew should crash the party of all-time greatest running backs? I wonder how he would have fared playing for Dallas in the early 1990s? And don’t we all know, deep down, that Barry Sanders was the greatest running back not named Jim Brown? He was already the best of his generation — and it’s not close (sorry, Emmitt) — and he did all of that while playing in Detroit. Wayne Fontes. Rodney Peete. Eric Kramer. Andre Ware. Scott Mitchell. Ugh. 

My assessment of Moss’ career isn’t unique. I judge his contemporaries, primarily Chris Cooley, Chris Samuels and Clinton Portis, the same way. Cooley caught the fifth most balls in ‘Skins history and most among tight ends. Is he better than Jerry Smith (second in receptions by a ‘Skins tight end) or Don Warren (who is walking around with three Super Bowl Rings)? I never even saw Smith play with “me own two eyes,” and Warren checks in with 185 less receptions (429 to 244) and 26 less career touchdowns (33 to seven). So how are they ahead of Cooley? Simple. Smith was an elite, pass-catching tight end before they were cool and at least, as a member of the first decent era of football in D.C. post-World War II, made it to the show (Super Bowl VII). Warren has a fist-full of diamonds and gold. Conversely, Cooley’s ‘Skins won a total of one playoff game during his entire career.

I get more ruthless (and irrational?).

I was actually glad Portis, the second-leading rusher in team history, didn’t break John Riggins’ record and a little disappointed he passed Larry Brown. Samuels was a one-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowl left tackle. Joe Jacoby was a two-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler. Who do I consider the better tackle in ‘Skins history? Stop. It’s not close. One has three rings (Jacoby); the other has empty fingers (Samuels).

I am asking a lot of questions and exposing, critiquing and criticizing my own opinions because I need help. This isn’t just a self cross-examination; I am putting you, the reader, on the stand, too. You have made it this far into this piece because you love football. You have a favorite team. If that team has Super Bowl pedigree, do you rank your team’s all-time greats similarly (with heavy emphasis on titles)? Seattle fans, the real ones, not the bandwagon occupants, has Marshawn Lynch already surpassed Curt Warner as the second best running back in team history (statistics say no, jewelry says yes)? How far is Lynch behind Shaun Alexander — if at all? Who is the franchise’s greatest quarterback? Is it still Matt Hasselbeck or Dave Krieg? How close is Russell Wilson already? Warning: you validate me, twelfth man, if you claim Wilson’s already the best.

Perhaps I’m showing my age. I have overvalued players from my youth. My once innocent eyes filtered their warts. I’m awash in nostalgia. I’m wishing that I was thirteen again. That’s it. Could it be that simple? No, it’s not. Believe me, I’m ready, I’m begging RGIII, Alfred Morris, Garcon and Brian Orakpo to give me a reason to bump Joe Theismann, Riggins, Clark and Dexter Manley down a notch. Sadly, I doubt they ever will. It would take championships (intended plurality) to do that. Long tenures, flashes of brilliance, memorable moments and unforgettable contributions just aren’t enough. Rings don’t just complete an athlete’s career, they also complete the relationship between fan and athlete. Is that fair? Probably not, but it is what it is. I’m sorry, Moss. You deserve better.