August 22, 2012

Is Age Really Only a Number?

By - Andy Garcia

There is a popular belief that it is best for a professional athlete to retire while being at the top of his or her game. But why is it so bad for players to continue grinding it out into their late 30s, even 40s, if they can still be fairly productive?

Michael Jordan was criticized for unretiring a second time at age 38 to play with the Washington Wizards. Many say it tainted his legacy. His Airness still averaged 20+ points even while being "washed up."

On the contrary, Barry Sanders called it quits while still in his prime at the age of 30. Sanders, highly regarded as one of the best running backs of all-time, was criticized for retiring too early and not sticking around to break the all-time rushing record.

It seems impossible for athletes to figure out when the best time to retire is.

Should they go until they've milked every single drop, chancing the risk of failure -- or worse, embarrassment? Or is it better to hang 'em up before going past their peak, even though there will always be the what ifs?

That is the situation that a trio of NFL wide receivers are going through heading into the 2012 season.

Randy Moss has certainly had some ups and downs in his career. He was drafted 21st overall in the 1998 draft by the Minnesota Vikings, where he won Offensive Rookie of the Year and had 7 outstanding seasons.

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When Moss was traded to the Oakland Raiders in 2005, he was nagged by injuries and became somewhat lackadaisical. Many believed his career was on a downward spiral.

After 2 seasons, Randy was traded to the New England Patriots, where playing with Tom Brady rejuvenated the 30-year-old receiver. He enjoyed 3-straight 1,000+ receiving yard seasons, and in 2007 he set the NFL record for most touchdowns in a season with 23.

Drama eventually found its way back to Moss in New England, where he had a falling out with the organization and was promptly traded back to Minnesota. His original team waived him a month later and that was followed by a short stint with the Tennessee Titans.

After finishing up the season with microscopic numbers, Moss decided to retire. That retirement only lasted about 6 months though, and now he has signed on to continue his career with the San Francisco 49ers.

So what can we expect this season from one of the greatest deep threats in NFL history?

No one knows for certain, but don't be surprised if Moss comes back to life. It seems that after every valley he goes through, he always finds a way to hit another peak. After posting the worst stats in his career, I would expect the 35-year old West Virginian to come back hungrier than ever, ready to prove his naysayers wrong one more time.

One aspect of the 49ers that might hinder Moss is their lack of commitment to throwing the football. Last season they ranked 1st in rushing versus 28th in passing. Maybe now that quarterback Alex Smith has several weapons the 49ers will decide to catch their opponents off guard with an actual passing game.

Only time will tell.

In an interview with, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman described Moss as a "true professional" and says that he is "fully engaged at all times."

The work ethic is there. Now let's see if the sometimes outspoken receiver can keep the drama bug away and show everyone why he is one of the best wide receivers to have ever played the game.

Another future Hall of Fame wideout trying to make a comeback this season is none other than Terrell Owens.

Photo by: Getty Images
Number 81, now donning a number 10 jersey for the Seattle Seahawks, has also had a roller coaster of a career. Known for his brash personality and innovative touchdown celebrations, T.O. has caught much attention, both positively and negatively, throughout his 16-year career.

Owens was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1996 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, where he had 8 productive seasons. After an unusual situation was settled where the 49ers tried to trade him a day after he officially became a free agent, he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.

In his second season with Philly, T.O. struggled with injuries and eventually became displeased with the Eagles as he did with his prior team. He was soon released, allowing him to sign with the Dallas Cowboys.

In Big D, Owens put up 3-straight 1,000 receiving yard seasons. But despite his success, the Cowboys also eventually released him. This was followed by one-year terms with the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals. Even though T.O. managed to produce decent numbers with Buffalo and Cincy, no other team wanted anything to do with him after the 2010 season.

Mr. Get-Your-Popcorn-Ready was shamefully forced to sign with the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League. He played 8 games before ultimately being released once again.

Coach Pete Carroll decided to take a chance on T.O. for the upcoming 2012 season, signing him to a one-year, $925,000 contract on August 6th.

Can the loud mouth receiver labelled a "locker room cancer" keep his composure and revive his fallen career?

T.O. found a way to finish his last couple seasons in the NFL without any major incidents. He might have finally learned how to keep his mouth shut and talk with his play on the field. He has good reason to have a chip on his shoulder after falling from grace. Surely the $50 severance package that the Wranglers generously gave him has much to do with this.

Owens has not had a 1,000 yard season since 2008. Don't expect him to break out of that slump this season, if ever again. At age 38, his best playing days are long gone. However, T.O. continues to keep himself in tip top shape. That was never a target of criticism.

With a revamped offensive line, "Beast Mode" running back Marshawn Lynch re-signing, and a starting QB not named Tarvaris Jackson, there is definite optimism heading into the season. A 50 reception, 800 yard campaign is very attainable.

The receiver formerly known as Chad Ochocinco has finally changed his last name back to Johnson. Chad was hoping to also turn things around on the field this season, but the future looks grim for number 85.

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Johnson was recently released by the Miami Dolphins after being arrested for domestic violence. Many were expecting great things from him after his disaster of a season with the New England Patriots last year.

As a 2001 2nd round pick of the Bengals, Johnson made a name for himself, literally and figuratively, as one of the most explosive wide receivers in the game. Like his former teammate Terrell Owens, Chad gained notoriety from his ridiculous touchdown celebrations.

After 10 seasons with the Who Dey Nation, Johnson was traded to the Patriots. He all but disappeared on the field while with the Pats last year, which led to his inevitable release. Johnson then signed with Miami and things were beginning to look up -- until he was cut.

So how will he fare in 2012?

It is not certain that Johnson will even get to play this year. No team has expressed any interest in acquiring the social networking sensation, still referred to as Ochocinco by many. Johnson is only 34-years-old, and still has plenty of football left in him. The hardest part at this point is finding a team to allow him to showcase his abilities.

There aren't many clubs that may want to take a chance on Ocho. One slim possibility might be the Jacksonville Jaguars. Bob Bratkowski, who was the offensive coordinator for the Bengals while Johnson was there, was brought in to become the new OC for the Jags. With Ocho's well documented struggles to pick up new offensive systems, this situation would seem like the perfect fit for him.

Let's say, hypothetically speaking, that Johnson finds a way to get into an NFL uniform this season. What can we expect from him?

It is very possible for Johnson to revert back to his premier playing days. The key to this will be finding the proper system for him to operate under. If that happens, an elite season or two might still be in the realm of possibility, given his talent and age.

With all the different storylines going on, the 2012 NFL season is shaping up to be a great one.

This trio of aging wide receivers will garner much attention throughout the year and we may see once and for all whether these candid players can revitalize their careers -- or dig themselves a final grave.


  1. I can see Moss having a pretty good year, mainly because he's got a good team around him. Owens has looked bad so far, and Johnson will be lucky if anyone even signs him, which is fine by me because I've always though he was overrated.

    1. I would take Moss to have the best season of the 3 if he had someone other than Alex Smith throwing him the ball.

      I think T.O. will surprise some people this year. He had several drops in his debut with Seattle, but he's always had problems with drops. He should be okay.

      Someone will give Johnson another chance. Not sure how quickly he will be able to contribute though.

  2. Yes, I agree with TO. I hope by being out of the league for 2 years he'll have changed his attitude and be a positive influence on the team. But Moss is on the better team. The NFC West should be interesting this year. Seattle will surprise a lot people.

  3. You guys seem to be forgetting that T.O. is pushing 40 years of age, which is ANCIENT for a wide receiver. I think he'll do next to nothing this year, and that's if he even makes the team.