While wide receiver Santana Moss will never be confused for one of the biggest guys on the football field, there’s no doubting the impact he has during a game. When the Washington Redskins need a play late in the fourth quarter, history shows they get the ball into Moss’ hands. And time and time again he delivers. Like he’s famously quoted as saying, “Big time players make big time plays in big time games.”
While Moss may not be big on talking, preferring to let his game speak for him, he was kind enough to spend some time with us looking back at his record-setting college and pro career, dealing with the loss of Sean Taylor and what he looks for in a quarterback.
Where are you originally from and what was your childhood like?
I’m originally from Miami, Florida, and my childhood was great. I experienced it all – the good, the bad and some stuff you don’t want to hear about.
How early did you start playing football and when did you figure out that you were better at this game than most other kids your age?
I started playing on the street for a while, but I didn’t play organized football until I was 12. Mom wouldn’t let me do it until I got a little bit older, but I started playing way earlier than that. I was playing sandlot games with older guys from like the age of six.
Are you naturally athletic, or did you have to work harder to get to the highest level of competition? What other sports, if any, are you good at?
I think I was blessed with everything that I have, I just stayed at it. I just keep fine tuning it. Track was probably my best sport outside of football. I was pretty good at it through high school and college. I was telling the story the other day that I could have been in the Olympic trials one year doing the long jump in track, but I decided to go to football practice instead of going out there. Football was always going to be first.
Do you think if you would have stuck with it we would have seen you competing at the Olympics?
I’m not saying I know would I would have made it, but I’m pretty good at it. So if I would’ve stayed with it, you never know what I could have done.
As everyone knows, you went to the University of Miami. During your college career, you became the first player to earn Big East Offensive and Special Teams Player of the Year honors in the same season, and you set the Hurricanes’ all-time record with 2,546 receiving yards – erasing the record previously held by Michael Irvin. Why did you choose to become a Hurricane and what did you get out of your time at “The U?”
I look at it as the Hurricanes chose me, you know. I was selected to come there on a track scholarship and I feel like there was no better school I could have went to in order to be able to do both things – run track and play football. They gave me the opportunity to come in there on a track scholarship and also play football. They were the best school that gave me an offer. All the other schools were up north and I don’t think I was ready to go away from home yet.
Once I got there, it was hands down, what we went through and how I prepared myself, that’s how I was able to become one of the best receivers that’s come out of there. I just stuck to it, and I had a great class, so we all motivated each other and were able to become one of the best classes to ever come out of there.
Was it even more special being at Miami with it being your hometown team?
Oh yeah. Just not having to leave home for college and always being able to have a home-cooked meal on top of everything that Miami brought to you outside of football, it was lovely.
Who was the most-talented player on the Hurricanes during your time there?
When I was there, man, we had them all. If I were to name them all, you’d be amazed. I can’t pick just one guy out of there. If I had to look back and pick one, I think Ed Reed had the shot to be the most athletic outside of all the guys who were there. He was a safety, but he could do everything.
You were drafted by the New York Jets with the 16th overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft. Talk to me a little bit about what it felt like to hear your name called that day. What was your reaction when you found out you were heading to the Big Apple?
I was happy that I got drafted. I didn’t have no emotion on my face because I grew up not liking the Jets. I used to pick at my wife because her uncle played for the Jets, his name is Marvin Jones. We were dating at the time and I always used to tell her how sorry the Jets was back in college and in high school. Then, I was like “Man, I should have bit my tongue all these years getting on her about the Jets.” But overall, I was happy I got selected by them and was going to go there and play my hardest.
Was the middle of the first round kind of where you expected to go, and how many times have you given the Redskins front office a hard time for drafting Rod Gardner one spot earlier?
I’ve never brought it up, but I had heard from everyone when I was selected that I was going to be a Redskin. The whole week leading up, they had me circled as going to the Redskins. I think Dan Snyder wanted me to come here too, but when I got the call from the Jets and saw Rod Gardner picked before me, I wasn’t mad or anything. I think Dan Snyder was kind of mad because [Marty] Schottenheimer was the coach and he wanted a bigger receiver, so he picked Rod Gardner instead of me. It’s almost like destiny though because I’m here anyways. I think it was good for me to go away, learn and experience some of the things I experienced and when I got my chance, I’m here now.
How do you look back on your time with the New York Jets?
My memories are great. I went to the playoffs three out of the four years I was there. I broke a couple of records here and there and I was a Pro Bowl alternate twice – two years in a row – once for punt return, one as a receiver. And I was hurt one whole year, my first year, so for me to do all of that stuff in three years, I think it was time well spent. I learned a lot, I grew up a lot and I think it prepared me to be where I’m at now.
In March 2005, you were traded from the Jets to the Washington Redskins straight up for Laveranues Coles. How did the trade come about and what were your thoughts about the Redskins before you arrived in town?
It’s a long story, but I think it’s the best thing that ever happened to me, especially for my career. I don’t even look back on it, I just thank the Lord for the opportunity to come over here and never look back at it.
What were your thoughts on the Redskins before you arrived in town?
I knew they had several players over here who were considered the top at their positions. I was just happy to be over here and be a part of this.
Speaking of 2005, that was a monster year for you, starting with your week two explosion in Dallas on Monday Night Football. We know how much those two touchdowns at the end of the game meant to Redskins fans, but what do they mean to you? Do they rank as some of your favorite memories?
I think they do. When it comes to big games and big moments as far as my NFL career that ranks up there. I look back on it and I always want that kind of start. It seems like right now we’re on our way to having that kind of pace and that kind of start, so I’m hoping to build on it.
You went on to set the Redskins single season record for receiving yards with 1,483, launched your team to the playoffs and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. How did everything come together so perfectly for you that year?
I just took what they gave me. I took the opportunities of getting the ball the way I have and it was amazing. I hadn’t been in an offense like this – I was out there, but I wasn’t really used to the best of my ability. So, being a part of that, coming here and getting the ball every other down because they knew I could do something with it, it was a blessing just to have the opportunity. One thing I do, whenever I get an opportunity, I never let it slide. I just tried to make sure I capitalized on every opportunity and we just got onto a serious pace and a serious role where we fed off of all the stuff I did and the running game and we just – me and Clinton [Portis] just took it by storm. Me, him, [Chris] Cooley and Mike Sellers – those guys, we just had that offense in our hands and we just ran with it.
Fast forward to last year, and things didn’t go nearly as smoothly for you. A series of nagging injuries slowed you down on the field and then there was the Sean Taylor tragedy off the field. How tough was 2007 for you, and how did you personally deal with losing such a close friend?
You know it’s tough. Every year don’t always add up to be the same. You go through trials and tribulations, but you got to learn how to live and live through those things. That’s what makes you better as a man. I feel like obstacles are always going to come and tragedies are always going to come, but it’s up to you to handle them. You have to know how to deal with it and put it behind you, but at the same time never forget it. That’s what I’ve done. You know how that felt going through it and you just try to build off of it because you don’t want that feeling anymore.
You told me during training camp that you did some mixed martial arts training this past offseason. First of all, do you think it helped you, and if so, could you see more NFL players trying it out? And secondly, was that the most unique type of training you’ve participated in during your professional career?
I don’t know if it’s something for everyone to do. I did it because I was so used to working out every year and I wasn’t working out at the time, so I needed something to do. I did it to benefit from workout out instead of sitting around the house like a couch potato. It helped me a lot, keeping my core strong and keeping my wind, for when I got out here and started running around and stuff. There’s guys that have probably been playing this sport longer than me that have been doing it before me, that’s one of the reasons I got the idea. I heard of guys doing different things like boxing, martial arts and swimming just to do something other than football as far as training.
Is that the most unique offseason training you’ve ever done?
Yes, by far. Usually it’s just all football, all summer. Maybe I go running or something. This was the first time I’ve done something out of this world – doing something I never grew up thinking I’d be a part of. But over the years watching people play that sport or whatever, it became interesting to me.
During your time with the Washington Redskins, you’ve caught touchdown passes from Mark Brunell, Patrick Ramsey, Todd Collins and Jason Campbell. What traits do you personally look for in a quarterback?
Just get me the ball. (Laughs)
I don’t want nothing from them more than putting it in a spot where I can do something with it. That’s all I can ask for.
How tough is it to catch a deep pass 40 or 50 yards downfield?
Honestly, it’s tough. But when you do it for so many years, do it for so long, it’s exciting – especially when you can just get it and get in the endzone. You look forward to the opportunity and just take it from there.
What’s the biggest difference between Joe Gibbs and Jim Zorn?
It’s still too early to be judged. The offenses are way different, you know. We’re a pass happy and a run happy team. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities. I feel like you won’t be able to compare the differences until it’s all said and done.
How would you describe your friendship with Clinton Portis? You two seem like polar opposites, with you staying relatively quiet, while he’s never afraid to speak his mind.
Clinton’s going to be Clinton. I feel like we’ve known each other long enough, so you know what he’s going to bring to the table and what I’m going to bring to the table. However he does his, he does his and I does mine the way I does mine. We just know each other best because we’ve known each other and played together for such a long time. There’s lots of guys who can be friends, and be different. That’s one of the reasons we’re cool is because we respect each other for who we are and don’t worry about what we’re not.
What goes through your mind when you hear that your teammate Chris Cooley took a photo of a page from the playbook and accidentally posted a revealing photo of himself on his blog?
It’s something that I don’t really care too much to talk about because it wasn’t me. It’s something that don’t do nothing for me. He said it was a mistake, so it was a mistake. I think a lot of stuff gets blown out of proportion this day and age, so I just wish for the best for him and wish it don’t go no further.
Speaking of Cooley, you and several other Redskins players are involved in a fantasy football league. What do you know about fantasy football?
I don’t know much about it. I just do it and I’m learning on the go with it. I look forward to seeing the guys I picked get off.
What can fantasy football owners expect from Santana Moss this season?
I mean, I’m just going to do my thing, man. I don’t talk about it. I just let it happen.
Interviewed by Brian Murphy, September 2008.
[Editor’s note: For those new around here, we’ve also previously done one on one interviews with Marcus Washington, Clinton Portis and Fred Smoot.]