RICHMOND — An adorable little girl wearing a pink Washington Redskins jersey and pigtails thought she missed her chance to meet wide receiver Santana Moss , who signed every football, jersey and miniature helmet put in front of him after practice here the other day. Headed to the locker room, Moss noticed the frowning child and doubled back, giving her his autograph and a hug. His thoughtfulness wasn’t surprising.
Entering his 14th NFL season and 10th with Washington, Moss, the Redskins’ longest-tenured player, continues to set a positive example. Although his statistics have declined along with his role in the offense, Moss still occupies an important position on the team. He’s a tell-it-like-it-is leader who believes that with success comes responsibility. When he finishes his work each day, Moss proves it.
While many players often ignore fans’ pleas to sign items and pose for pictures, Moss spends significant time working the rope line. It’s not uncommon for Moss to accommodate late-arriving spectators. Fans, Moss said, have helped him provide a great life for his family. He owes them — and never forgets it.
“They’re out here, watching us, supporting us,” Moss said. “They’re doing that, so I can take a little bit of time out. You know what I’m saying?”
Absolutely. Moss sees the big picture. It became clear to him early during a productive career that eventually will end with Moss ranking high on the franchise’s all-time receiving lists. Long ago, Moss developed a simple approach to playing in the NFL, “and it’s really about just staying true to myself.”
“I know ‘Father Time’ is going to catch up to all of us,” he said. “Depending on how it catches up to you, you have to determine what you still can do. As long as I can be an example — show the guys how to work, show the guys how to make plays and how to be [professional] — then I feel like I’m doing my job.”
Even late in the game, Moss continues to get the job done. Formerly Washington’s longtime No. 1 wideout, Moss, 35, no longer possesses the speed that helped him set a franchise record with 1,483 receiving yards in 2005. Younger players have passed him on the depth chart. And after three consecutive seasons in which his yardage totals have decreased, Moss figures to only have a bit part under new Coach Jay Gruden.
Coaches want Moss on the roster, though, because they have learned to rely on him. In countless situations over the years, Moss has proven his dependability.
“He’s a consummate pro and a great leader” in the locker room, offensive coordinator Sean McVay said. “With all the experience he has, a whole lot of guys look up to him. I mean, what a great job he has done over the course of his career. It’s a credit to him, being a No. 1-type player, to be able to transition to [a reduced role].
“But he has been able to do it, and do a great job with whatever we’ve asked him to do, because he’s so smart. What a smart player he is . . . being able to play all three receiver spots for us. He understands exactly what we’re trying to get done. He understands situational football. He’s an asset.”
He’s also a great teacher. Inexperienced wideouts regularly seek Moss’s counsel. Some ask him to critique their route running. Others pepper Moss with questions about how to attack the defense. No matter how much time they need, Moss carves out enough.
President and General Manager Bruce Allen enjoys watching Moss work with up-and-comers. “He’s handled himself, his entire career, the same way,” Allen said. “He has become just a great role model for the younger receivers.”
Not only receivers. You don’t have to be in Moss’s position group to benefit from his wisdom. When Moss talks — which is often — about how to prosper in the NFL, most in the locker room listen.
“He’s my favorite player,” fullback Darrel Young said. “For a guy who’s in Year 14, to still be out here outrunning guys, taking care of his body, not missing any days of camp and not wanting a day off . . . he’s special.
“That’s why he has been playing for as long as he has. He understands the game and what you have to do to stay in this game. I love him as a person. He’s a good dude. But he also takes people under his wing. He helps people make it. It’s not about being selfish. He shows that.”
When the Redskins talk about Moss, you get the sense he’s well suited to coach someday. Moss does, too. “When the time comes when I can’t do my job,” he said, “then I’ll be on the side with those guys [receivers] probably helping them as a coach.”
But that’s down the road. Moss can still play. Just ask his teammates, coaches or the fans along the rope line.