WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – Acquired from the New York Jets in March 2005 for fellow receiver Laveranues Coles, Santana Moss broke in with a bang in Washington, grabbing a 52-yard pass to help beat Chicago 9-7 in his debut.
Moss became a fan favorite eight days later with two late, long touchdown catches to stun hated archrival Dallas 14-13 at Texas Stadium. I’ll never forget interviewing Moss the next day at Redskins Park as he held onto a bouquet of red roses sent by a new admirer.
While Moss hates to talk about his numbers, during the Redskins’ 82 seasons, only Hall of Famers Art Monk and Charley Taylor have caught more passes than his 567. Only Monk, Taylor, four-time Pro Bowl receiver Gary Clark, and record-setting return man Brian Mitchell have produced more all-purpose yards than Moss’ 8,226. And only nine men have scored more touchdowns for Washington than his 48.
So it’s more than fair to say that Moss has given the Redskins more than their money’s worth during his nine years in burgundy and gold, a tenure whose final home game will probably happen Sunday against those same Cowboys, whom he has usually given fits.
Taylor and Monk, who each retired as the NFL’s career leader in catches, were much bigger receivers than the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Moss, who’s often the smallest man on the field. But asked about Moss, Taylor, who coached Washington’s receivers from 1981-93 (all but the first year of Monk’s Redskins career) didn’t mention size or speed. Taylor cited Moss’ smarts in being “able to adjust his route depending on the coverage” and “his passion for what he does.”
Two-time Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley played eight of his nine seasons alongside Moss and said that if his teammate had spent those years in one offense with one coach and one quarterback instead of in Washington’s turmoil that he would have put up huge numbers a la Wes Welker in New England with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
“Our offense kept changing and Santana was asked to do things that really weren’t best for him,” Cooley said. “When he was in his prime, his run after the catch was incredible, the way he would make big plays out of those bubble screens. Santana has the best body control of anybody I’ve ever seen. He has an amazing ability to stick his foot in the ground, plant and cut on a dime.”
Cooley said that Moss was also a terrific teammate because he’s so likeable and because he would often encourage younger players by telling them that they could be the best.
Moss was chosen for a lone Pro Bowl, back in his 2005 Redskins debut. He has been part of just three playoff teams and one postseason victory, one in which Washington’s Mark Brunell passed for just 41 yards. But Moss, despite last Sunday’s muffed punt return and a fumble while fighting for extra yardage, has also been as reliable as they come during a tumultuous time in Ashburn. Witness his touchdown catch with 18 seconds left that put the Redskins on the brink of victory.
If next Monday’s final locker room session of 2013 is the last ever for the 34-year-old Moss, he will be missed, both by the young players for his wise counsel and by the media for his constant presence and his candor when so many teammates didn’t make themselves available or weren’t willing to really say how they felt.
Moss earned my undying respect six years ago in the cramped visitors’ locker room when he patiently answered every question and took the blame for costing the Redskins a rare victory at Green Bay because he twice lost his grip on footballs in the cold October rain.
The previous season, Moss beat Jacksonville with three touchdown catches, the first one for 55 yards and the last one, a game-winning 68-yard catch and run to the end zone just three plays into overtime.
In 2008, Moss turned a 10-9 deficit at winless Detroit into a 22-10 Washington advantage with consecutive scores of 50 and 80 yards, the latter on a punt return as the Redskins reached the high water mark of the two-year Jim Zorn regime at 6-2.
Moss had 10 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown against the Lions the next year, but the Redskins lost. They did a lot of that in 2010, too, even though Moss caught 93 passes, the most by a Redskin other than Monk until Pierre Garcon topped that total last Sunday.
The following season was miserable for Moss as he crashed to 46 catches, but the 2006 co-winner of the Good Guy Award as voted by the Redskins media was always ready to talk from his spot just to the left of the main door as one entered the locker room in Ashburn. And that has remained the case during the past two seasons as Garcon, Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson have all started ahead of him.
But Moss’ graciousness wasn’t a surprise to me. In August 2006 when Moss was coming off that Pro Bowl/playoff victory season, I had to write a lengthy feature on Antwaan Randle El. The only way for me to get any time alone with the new receiver was to interview him as he drove from Redskins Park to the players’ training camp home in nearby Landsdowne. Unbeknownst to me or the public relations staff, Moss was getting a ride with Randle El. We arrived at the SUV at the same time. I reached for the passenger door. So did Moss before he realized the situation and climbed into the backseat. I’ll always appreciate him not going big-time on me and allowing me to do my job.
As I was writing this column, it struck me that the only players I’ve covered longer than Moss were Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green (11 years) and offensive tackles Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels (10 each). However, Green was often hard to pin down and all three were absent for most of a season while on injured reserve. Moss, on the other hand, has always been there, a fact for which the Redskins’ organization, its fans, and the media should be thankful. I know I am. Thanks, ‘Tana.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.