SANTA CLARA Randy Moss: wide receiver, teammate, mentor statesman?
Moss, whose public image has taken a beating over 13 NFL seasons and four different teams, struck all the right notes Friday in his first media session since March. He came off as loose, friendly, optimistic and eager to please.
He even channeled John F. Kennedy in explaining why he feels obligated to pass the knowledge he's accumulated over his career to his younger 49ers teammates.
"Now that I'm matured physically and mentally, my philosophy is, I do not like what the NFL does for me, I want to know what I can do to make the NFL better," he said. "And if that's coming out here teaching the young guys and showing my professionalism and being a leader on and off the field, that's what I want to do."
Perhaps most important to a 49ers passing game that was one of the league's most modest last season, Moss said he's found a Fountain of Youth in Santa Clara after taking a year off last year.
Moss turns 36 in February, about the time the 49ers hope to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, but he said he doesn't feel his age. It seems he also benefits from rubbing shoulders with 20-something receivers.
"I love being around the guys," he said. "These guys are young and very enthusiastic. I don't really feel my age being around these guys. They love to have fun."
The question now is whether Moss still has the speed and the will he had at the beginning of his career when he struck fear in defensive backs and when he was a threat to score from any point on the field.
He certainly was a favorite target of 49ers quarterbacks during spring drills. And during the team's first training-camp practice of the summer on Friday, he and Alex Smith twice hooked up for deep touchdown passes in the corner of the end zone in one-on-one drills.
Like spring practices, contact was forbidden in Friday's session.
Moss' next test will come Sunday when the 49ers hold their first fully padded, full-contact practice.
Smith, meanwhile, said he was not warped by the public's perception of Moss when the 49ers signed the veteran receiver to a one-year deal. Instead, he spoke with former teammates and friend Shaun Hill, who played with Moss in Minnesota and who raved about the kind of teammate Moss had been there.
He did admit to being a bit intimidated when he first started throwing to a receiver who is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.
"The great thing about being around Randy is he keeps it light," Smith said. "He makes it fun to play out there. So that (intimidation) vanished pretty quick. He's a great communicator out there. A guy that played that much, he sees things really well, communicates really well. So it's really been great working with him. Honestly, I've learned a lot."
So have the younger receivers.
Second-year player Joe Hastings, for example, was 11 when Moss made his first Pro Bowl in 1998. But the two are often seen chatting on the field, and Hastings said he was blown away by the way Moss "attacks practice."
"It kind of sets the bar up there," Hastings said. "Guys watch that. And when you play with guys that are better than you, it raises your own game."
The only question that Moss who hadn't spoken to reporters for 137 days didn't answer was why he stepped away from the game last year. The 49ers, in fact, were interested in signing him when their receiver numbers dwindled late in the season, but Moss didn't want to play.
"One thing that I have learned is that people don't like the truth, so I'll just wait until my book comes out just to (explain) why I did walk away from the game for a year," he said.
When will that book be published?
"Ten to 15 years," Moss said as he left the podium.