Randy Moss climbed into his chair, looked around and saw dozens of reporters standing in front of his podium.
“I’m a little stunned to come out and see everybody, especially at my booth,” Moss said.
Like Moss didn’t know he would be a focus of attention after catching 23 touchdown passes, eclipsing the single-season record set by former San Francisco 49er Jerry Rice.
There aren’t that many compelling stories in this Super Bowl, but Moss is one of them.
A year ago, he was poison, an aging, bitter receiver who had lost a step and burned bridges in both Minnesota and Oakland.
Few teams wanted him. Most were scared of him.
Yet here he is, 98 catches, 1,493 yards and 23 TDs later, the ultimate individualist fitting in with the team that disdains individualism more than any other.
And all those turbulent years will be forgotten if Moss walks off the field Sunday as a champion.
“In the back of my mind I really didn’t know if I’d get here or not,” Moss said Tuesday.
That Moss would wind up with the Patriots seemed inconceivable a year ago. New England doesn’t invite cancers into their locker room, and Moss was the guy who loafed when he wasn’t getting the ball and in 2001 infamously said, “I play when I want to play.”
But the risk was low – New England gave up just a fourth-round draft pick to Oakland – and the potential reward was high.
Plus, the Patriots were certain their veterans would keep Moss in line and winning would further pacify him.
“A lot of key people in our system knew Randy and didn’t think it would be a problem,” Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft said. “He’s fit into our locker room beautifully.”
Indeed, it’s hard to find a Patriot who has anything negative to say about Moss, 30, other than the fact he likes to walk around the locker room naked.
Instead, they rave about his professionalism, work ethic and, of course, his talent.
Linebacker Mike Vrabel: “He’s been unbelievable. I like watching him play but I like watching him interact with guys in the locker room, too. He’s engaging, a great storyteller. Guys like being around him.”
Linebacker Junior Seau: “Randy Moss has been a leader, a great player. Honestly, he has really showcased himself on the field and off the field. Despite what was said beforehand he has proven who he is and what kind of character guy he is.”
No one appreciates Moss more than quarterback Tom Brady. But it’s not just Moss’ skills that have impressed Brady. It’s the way he’s gone about his work. The loafer in Minnesota and Oakland has been one of the Patriots’ hardest workers.
“You should have seen him running around yesterday (Monday),” Brady said. “He is flying down the field. This is our 115th practice and he’s still out there like it’s minicamp.”
Perhaps nothing illustrates Moss’ maturation more than his silence in the postseason. He had a combined two catches for 32 yards in the Patriots’ victories over Jacksonville and San Diego, but he didn’t complain to the coaching staff or grouse to the media.
“I think early in my career I probably would have voiced my opinion on certain plays and how I could get open,” Moss said. “I had a very angry approach to the game when I was young.”
Moss hasn’t completely shed his skin. He blamed his two turbulent years in Oakland on the Raiders’ organization, saying “football wasn’t the main priority over there anymore.”
And when a reporter wondered if he had any regrets, there was this response: “Not at all. I just don’t. What can I take back? I am who I am. I’m still going to do what I want to do and say what I want to say. To be able to say I regret things, I don’t.”
But if there’s still a bit of the rebel in Moss, it’s been tamped down by the Patriot Way. Moss has become a Bill Belichick disciple and, in doing so, has put a new coat of paint on his reputation.
“To be able to become a New England Patriot, it’s something I never thought would happen,” he said. “I’m living a dream.”