Keeping Score

Randy Moss Retires: A Drama King Who Belongs in the Hall of Fame

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Randy Moss of the Tennessee Titans looks on against the Washington Redskins at LP Field on November 21, 2010 in Nashville

Though Randy Moss may be most remembered for his moon, fans shouldn’t forget how he lit up the NFL.

On Monday, ESPN reported that Moss, 34, will retire from football. He ends his career with 954 receptions (eighth all-time) and 14,858 yards (fifth all-time). Both he and Terrell Owens have 153 touchdowns, good for second all-time (Jerry Rice has 197).

The singularly talented Moss was part of a group of drama-king wide receivers who emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This cradle of pass catchers included guys like Owens, Keyshawn Johnson, Chad Ochocinco; players whose skills were only matched by their egos. In Moss’ case, he was most famous for faux-mooning Green Bay fans after scoring a touchdown in 2005. Fox broadcaster Joe Buck reacted as if Moss assaulted an old lady, calling the act “disgusting.” Moss’ memorable response to the fine that followed: “What’s 10 grand to me?”

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Moss also walked off the field before time expired in one game, and squirted water on a referee in another. Besides his coaches and many fans, Moss also caused opposing defenses fits. Moss, who grew up in Rand, West Virginia, came out of Marshall; the Vikings took him with the 21st pick of the 1998 draft. He would have been picked earlier, but many teams worried about Moss’ character.

The clubs that passed on him wound up kicking themselves: Moss won offensive rookie of the year, catching 69 passes for 1,313 yards and 17 TDs. The Vikings, with veteran Randall Cunningham throwing deep passes to a streaking Moss, finished 15-1.

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After seven years in Minnesota, Moss spent two subpar seasons in Oakland. A trade to the New England Patriots revived him. In 2007, Moss caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards, and a single-season record 23 TDs in 2007, as the Pats finished the regular season undefeated. Moss’ contract complaints hastened his New England exit last season: he spent a month with Minnesota, before finishing his career in Tennessee.

Moss could be a malcontent, but he probably belongs in the Hall of Fame. Moss missed just six games in 13 seasons: he was a key contributor on two of the NFL’s greatest teams – the ’98 Vikings and ’07 Patriots — who happened to not win a Super Bowl (the Vikings lost to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL Championship Game, while the Pats fell to the Giants in the Super Bowl).

Moss also offers a useful example for today’s younger crop of receiving stars.  Run hard down the field like Randy. But go easy on the drama.

Sean Gregory is a staff writer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @seanmgregory. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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