It had been all positive
FOXBOROUGH - He almost made it.
Randy Moss aided Tom Brady in winning his first Most Valuable Player Award, played a major role in spurring the Patriots to a 17-0 record, broke Jerry Rice's 20-year-old record for touchdown receptions in a season, and accomplished all of it without a hint of negativity or controversy - until now.
Just four days shy of a potential Super Bowl berth, Moss's own perfect season was interrupted yesterday by disturbing news from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where a woman whom Moss termed "a friend" filed a restraining order against him in Broward County Court.
Rachelle Washington's allegations included that Moss committed battery "causing serious injury," and that Moss refused to allow her to seek medical treatment. Washington also checked off "yes" next to inquiries on the petition whether the respondent (Moss) had a drug or alcohol problem, and claimed she had been in an "intimate relationship" with him since 1997.
The alleged incident happened while the Patriots were enjoying a bye week from the playoffs. Moss acknowledged being at Washington's home and said he has been friendly with her for 11 years, but vehemently denied the charges.
"It's hard, because of everything I've been through, mostly the negatives, off the field," he said yesterday. "It's hard for me to sit up here and say that I'm innocent. Battery - I didn't hit no woman. I've never laid my hands on a woman."
That is matter of semantics. Moss did lay his car on a woman in 2002, when a 27-year-old traffic control officer in Minneapolis tried to prevent him from making an illegal turn by standing in front of his vehicle. According to police accounts, Moss slowly pushed Amy Zaccardi along with his car for about half a block until she fell to the ground. Zaccardi was not seriously hurt.
Moss also was charged with domestic battery in 1996, following an argument with his longtime girlfriend, Libby Offutt, in which, according to published reports, he threw "steaming" hot water on her.
Newspaper accounts of the incident reported that police responded to a 911 call from a concerned neighbor and witnessed Offutt pushing Moss, and Moss pushing her back. Although both parties declined to press charges and insisted their disagreement was resolved, they were arrested. The charges were later dropped.
Moss's checkered résumé has been an issue throughout his career, enabling the Patriots to acquire him for a mere fourth-round pick last April. Yesterday, Moss asked reporters to "do their homework" regarding his latest dust-up, adding, "What I'm saying is that it's unfair to us as athletes that when a situation like this occurs, it's up to you guys to make an assumption. Is this guy or this girl telling the truth? Or are they lying?"
The allegations leveled at Moss are extremely troubling and should make owner Robert Kraft blanch, particularly since he has repeatedly stated he expects his players to be held to a high standard of moral conduct. This is, after all, the team that dumped 1996 fifth-round draft choice Christian Peter with fanfare after learning he had pleaded no contest to sexual assault charges while at the University of Nebraska.
Would the Kraft family exhibit similar moral outrage over the alleged actions of the best receiver they've ever had?
Moss, unlike Peter, has not been charged with a crime. If we've learned one thing from the Duke lacrosse scandal, it's that a rush to judgment can lead to false - and devastating - conclusions. Moss deserves his day in court, and he will have it as soon as Jan. 28, during Super Bowl week, if he so chooses.
The receiver seemed genuinely stunned that his longtime "friend" had filed the restraining order. Moss questioned her timing and said he was asked to pay "six figures" to keep the incident quiet.
"It was an accident," Moss said. "Whatever happened, it was an accident. I wish I could sit here and tell you all what happened. But there is a lawsuit or whatever coming against me; I can't really explain or tell you all what is going on."
Moss's teammates quickly lined up behind him yesterday. He has been a valued member of the team, on the field, in the locker room, and in the community. Like coach Bill Belichick, who said he was behind Moss "100 percent," the Patriots are hoping this story will go away.
Yet questions persist. Why did Washington refrain from reporting the incident to the police on the night it occurred? What is the true nature of their relationship? And what does Moss mean by "an accident"? There is a huge gap between an "accident" and an allegation of assault.
If Moss committed battery, he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Likewise, if Washington has falsely accused the Patriots receiver and was looking for a payoff, she should be charged accordingly. As Moss pointed out himself, someone is lying.
One thing we do know: Today's headlines will be merely a blip on the Patriots' screen. New England's players received their distraction immunization shots before the season started. Nothing rattles this football team. If anything, the Moss controversy will merely bond them tighter.
As news of Moss's problems spread throughout the league yesterday, he received impassioned support from Dennis Green, the first NFL coach Moss played for.
"I don't have a clue about this latest incident," Green said by telephone, "but I'll stick with Randy. I'll keep the same beliefs I've had about him all these years, that he's a guy who wants to win, who is a team player, who made some mistakes as a young man and learned from them."
The Kraft family remained mum yesterday, but there is no doubt he will suit up and play in Sunday's game. In fact, Moss revealed, he went to Belichick last Friday and informed him of his legal troubles a day before the Jacksonville game.
Moss caught just one pass for 14 yards in that outing, but, Green said, don't mistake that as a sign he was affected by the allegations.
"Randy Moss was a big reason they won that game," Green said. "I can't believe Jacksonville's [entire] strategy was to do anything they could to keep Randy from getting the ball. In all but two plays of that game, they were defending him in a Cover-2 zone defense.
"That made it a walk in the park for Tom Brady. It gave him inside throws all day long, because of the threat of Randy Moss outside.
"I'm sure New England will say they are standing by Randy Moss. Why wouldn't they? He's never let them down."
Is that still true? That won't likely be determined until after the season. Moss said he won't even address the allegations until then, adding, "I have a job to do."
Yes, he does. But he also has serious questions to answer, ones that could have ramifications regarding his future.
Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.