You Play to Win the Game!
When it comes to professional sports, former New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards could not be more correct: you play to win the game. Unfortunately, not all NFL players seem to agree, or at least grasp the basics of an understanding of an inkling of a hint of this principle. With the recent waiving of Randy Moss in chilly Minnesota, the question that has followed the controversial receiver throughout his entire career resurfaced: is the performance worth the baggage? And the answer is a resounding "No."
What do Terrell Owens, Steve Smith (CAR), Chad Ochocinco, and Randy Moss all have in common? Besides the fact that they are all loud, obnoxious, abrasive, and attention-seekers? And that they are among the best receivers of the decade, with the exception of Smith, perhaps of all time? None of the four have won a Super Bowl.
Yes, these players excel on the field. Combined, the four receivers total 14 All-Pro seasons, 23 Pro-Bowl selections, and an average of 72 receptions per year for 1082 yards and at least 9 TDs. Randy Moss leads the league with 23 TD receptions in one season (albeit with 4 more games than Jerry Rice). Ochocinco is the Bengals franchise leader in receptions and yards and TD receptions . Steve Smith, barring major injury, within the next season or two will surpass Muhsin Muhammad, in the same categories mentioned for Ochocinco, for his Panthers. And Terrell Owens is 2nd all time in career yards receiving behind all-time great Jerry Rice. These guys are good.
But are they good where and when it counts? Combined, the four only have 2 Super Bowl appearances, both for a loss. The Bengals (66-84-1) and Panthers (73-78) have losing records in the 10 seasons (c0unting the current one) Chad Ochocinco and Steve Smith have played for their respective teams. Moss' (110-89) and T.O.'s (134-97) teams have compiled winning records. But if you take away Moss' time with the Pats (73-78), or just the undefeated regular season (94-89), Randy's record isn't nearly as impressive as at first glance.
Maybe you can blame these records on poor teams. Randy Moss played two seasons for an Oakland squad that won a combined 6 games during the receiver's tenure. Since the 2002 season, Oakland has failed to register more than 5 wins in a single season, with or without Moss. Steve Smith rode the bench for much of his rookie year. The Panthers won 1 game that year. The next year, Smith led the team in receiving yards with 872 and the team improved to 7-9. After T.O. left the Philadelphia Eagles, the NFC Conference Champs scraped by with a 6-10 record while Owens' Cowboys saw two playoff appearances in his stint in Dallas. Ochocinco was seen as part of the core of the team that brought Cincinnati from the bottom of the league to 2005 AFC North Division Champs.
But the truth is that these individuals perform as individuals while take away from the rest of the team. How many times have quarterbacks had to answer reporters' questions regarding T.O.'s latest comment or celebration? How many times has Randy Moss' obsession with himself torn apart a team and forced them to trade the disgruntled player? When will Chad Ochocinco stop talking and tweeting and win some games? How many times will Steve Smith punch a teammate in the face?
Now don't get me wrong. As a Patriots fan, I loved 2007. It seemed like all Tom Brady had to do was loft the ball up in the air and Moss would come down with it for a touchdown. But I also cringed knowing that it changed the offense to a team dependent on a high-risk, high-reward, narcissist who could lash out at any time. It didn't and doesn't matter if the team is winning or not. If the player isn't happy, there's a problem that the team needs to fix. A problem that will fester, grow, and tear apart and ruin any semblance of team chemistry.
Take Randy Moss. Last year, his Patriots won the AFC East. But throughout the season, he wasn't happy. It seemed like he quit on his teammates and took plays, even quarters off. One of Moss' defenders certainly seemed to think so. Oakland Raiders coaches also accused the receiver of "playing when he wanted to play" and not for the full 60 minutes. Moss stated that he expected 2010 to be his last season in New England. He claimed he wasn't receiving the respect he deserved. He said a lot of things. And now that he is passed around like a community bicycle, now that he is reminded how not every team runs its operations like championship teams such as the New England Patriots, he has to regret his decision to speak out. Luckily (for me and other Pats fans), Moss was shipped out before he infected others in New England. And don't forget that this wasn't Moss' first such clubhouse crisis. He was traded after his 2004 season with the Minnesota Vikings for similar issues. I can't say I am terribly surprised the Vikings have rebuilt there time without a similar headache (only to have it come crashing down with Brett Favre). I can't say I am surprised the Patriots haven't missed a step since trading away what some said was a critical piece to their offense.
But Moss isn't the only shy one. T.O. has been known to speak out. In 2004, T.O. signed with the Philadelphia Ealges (although, not without a controversy. What a surprise!) QB Donovan McNabb took to T.O. immediately and the two propelled the Eagles to the Super Bowl before falling short to the Patriots. T.O. thought it would be wise to voice his criticism of McNabb stating McNabb choked, couldn't win, and voiced concerns of the QB's fitness. But that wasn't it! Owens also demanded a new contract....one year after renegotiating for a 7 year deal. The problems for Philly persisted throughout the season. No one was surprised when, after 7 games, Owens' never-ending remarks forced the Eagles to suspend the receiver for, what ended up being, the rest of the season. The nightmare ride ended for the Eagles when the receiver was released.
Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, decided his team needed another migraine receiving threat. Jones brought Owens in from the cold. T.O. excelled with the accurate Tony Romo throwing his way. But, T.O. seemed jealous of the Romo-Jason Witten connection. Owens whined, cried, and complained about Dallas' strategy and use of the narcissist. Should it have surprised us that Owens, one of the best receivers to have played the game, was released from the Cowboys after the 2008 season? And should it have surprised us that the Cowboys excelled the next season? The 'Boys finished 11-5 and won a playoff game before falling to the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional Playoff Round.
I could go on. When it comes down to it, these players don't care about winning. They care about themselves. And this tears teams apart. But maybe Jeff Fisher, head coach of the Tennessee Titans, will find a way. After all, T.O., Moss, Smith, and Ochocinco all have put together fine individual seasons. But expecting them to keep their head down, play the game, and win just isn't what they do. If T.O. is not the center of attention something is wrong. If the ball is thrown to Wes Welker more than Randy Moss, there is a problem. If Steve Smith doesn't like how a teammate's face looks, he'll be kind enough to rearrange it. If Chad Ochocinco wants to prepare for one of the biggest games of his career, he'll buy a truck. What's most important to these guys is that your eyes are on them. Don't get me wrong. I love to watch personalities play the game. They provide some extra fun that Roger Goodell is seemingly trying to stamp out. I look forward to Ochocinco and his antics. But I'm with the coach on this one. When it comes to my team, I don't want to see a Moss or T.O. suiting up for me. Either way, I'll be sure to get my popcorn ready!
Editor’s Note: This sports column is a regular feature from “The Nightcap” crew, made up of a group of 5Cers who air a weekly radio sports talk show on KSPC. You can listen in live online every Monday from 8-10 PM or podcasted at any time from their website. Want to join the radio show this year? We are looking for new people! Email us at nightcapKSPC@gmail.com!