ON FOOTBALL: Moss needs to concentrate on football

Saturday, January 15th 2005, 12:43 pm

By: News On 6

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ No one would dispute that Randy Moss is one of the NFL's most prolific and exciting players. How valuable is he, though, when he can't seem to just play football?

For the Minnesota Vikings to do anything more in the playoffs, particularly Sunday at Philadelphia, Moss needs to excel. And behave.

The Vikings haven't had as significant a victory as last Sunday's win at Green Bay since Moss joined them in 1998. Sure, they made two NFC championship games, in 1998 and 2000, but they did so through byes for taking their division, then by winning a home game.

A win at Green Bay in which Minnesota forced Brett Favre into one of his worst performances, looked like the better team all day against its most bitter rival, and had no problem with the elements, should have been the overriding theme for the Vikings this week. Built for the fast track of their home dome, the Vikings went to the Lambeau tundra and won. Impressively.

Yet, thanks to Moss' simulated mooning after the final touchdown of a 31-17 victory, the headlines and highlights were focused on extracurriculars. And that's a shame for a Vikings team that has been a classic underachiever the last few years, and should have shed that image in Green Bay.

Moss, fined $10,000 by the NFL on Thursday for his antics, even admitted he wouldn't be surprised if he dominated SportsCenter and sports conversations not for his touchdown catch on an injured ankle, but for his end-zone buffoonery after it.

``What they should be talking about is the W we just hung on Lambeau,'' he said after the team's first road playoff victory since 1997. ``But they probably won't.''

No, people didn't. And Moss' teammates were forced to answer questions about the Pro Bowl receiver's behavior for the second straight week.

Regardless of how strongly they claim it is not a distraction, it is. The last thing athletes need in the midst of the stress of a playoff run is having to deal with non-football issues.

When Moss walked off the field while the Vikings were attempting on onside kick at the end of the regular-season finale in Washington, his actions were far worse. He was quitting on his teammates, who had the ``hands team'' on the field for the kickoff. Who has better hands than Moss? But he made himself unavailable by heading to the locker room early.

That act was far more selfish and destructive than his showboating in the Lambeau end zone. And it was even more distracting to his team.

Even Deion Sanders, no withering flower but generally considered a good teammate throughout his NFL career, chimed in, saying Moss ``needs someone in his life to tell him no, and tell him 'Man, that was stupid.' Someone that he really respects.''

But does such a person exist? Probably not.

``That's Randy,'' said center Matt Birk, one of the Vikings' leaders. ``You take the good with the bad.''

Why? Because he's a playmaker? That excuses his being selfish? Even if he becomes counterproductive?

Consider that Moss barely apologized to the rest of the team for either incident. And that most everyone in Philadelphia _ and probably throughout the NFL _ is wondering just what shenanigans he might have in store on Sunday.

Imagine, too, if Terrell Owens was healthy enough to suit up for the game. Might T.O. and Moss engage in a celebratory one-upmanship contest that would further sully their reputations and overshadow the game?

For every pen Owens pulls out of his sock, Moss might remove a sock _ or more. If Owens can mock Ray Lewis' pregame dance, just think what he could do with Moss' moondance.

Moss has had problems throughout his college and pro career. He lost scholarships at Notre Dame and Florida State because of a battery charge and marijuana use. He set records at Marshall and clearly was the most dynamic receiver in the 1998 draft, but lasted until 21st overall because of his history.

As a Viking, he has been a brilliant performer _ when he wants to be. Moss has admitted to dogging it on plays not designed for him, and quarterback Daunte Culpepper has screamed at him on the sideline for not going all out.

He has been fined for taunting. For squirting a referee with a water bottle, he was nailed for $25,000. He had a run-in with a traffic cop that led to a night in jail.

Now he's firmly back in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Instead of lauding Moss for playing hurt and being productive, he is lambasted for obscuring his team's accomplishments.

``Your actions were based on poor judgment, did not reflect well on you or the Vikings, and were insulting to many,'' NFL director of game operations Peter Hadhazy wrote to Moss in fining him. ``They have resulted in widespread criticism and needlessly detracted from Minnesota's dramatic playoff victory.

``Fans should look to you and your teammates to see how to compete and win in football. But when you lose your focus on playing and engage in sideshows as you did on Sunday, you forfeit much of this.''

For three decades, ever since Elmo Wright's spikes and Billy ``White Shoes'' Johnson's ``Funky Chicken'' routine, NFL players, most notably wide receivers, have honed their celebrations. Usually, they are harmless and entertaining.

If only Moss' actions weren't so detrimental. And they're bound to hurt the Vikings in these playoffs.

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