GLENDALE, Ariz. - Randy Moss looked over the microphone at the dozens of reporters in front of him and his eyes widened. For a guy who's seen his share of heavy coverage during the New England Patriots' playoff run, even this was a little much.
"They said how hectic it was going to be with all the cameras and all the flashes, but I guess I was a little stunned to come out here and see everybody here, especially waiting here at my booth," Moss said with a smile Tuesday during media day for the Super Bowl. "It is an experience, and I'm enjoying every second of it."
He should be, especially with the season he's had. Moss broke Jerry Rice's record for touchdown catches with 23 and set a team mark with 1,493 yards receiving, giving Tom Brady a big, speedy and dominant target to throw to as New England aims for a perfect season.
"I think the thing people don't realize about Randy is his understanding of the game," said Brady, whose 50 touchdown passes set an NFL record.
"He is the smartest offensive football player I've ever been around, from his understanding of the receiver position, his understanding of football, how to get open, how to manipulate his routes, to how to change up his speed. ... He's been an incredible player. He's had an incredible attitude."
That hasn't always been the case with Moss, who had a reputation for being a malcontent who had run-ins with teammates, coaches, fans and even the police. During his first seven seasons with Minnesota, Moss was a dominant receiver who could change a game with one big catch. But also complained and sulked when he didn't get enough balls thrown his way or didn't like the game plan. Once, he even walked off the field before a game was over.
"I approached the game when I was young, very angry," Moss said. "It wasn't at anyone in particular, it was just the game of football. Now, I still carry that same chip on my shoulder, but I do understand that I'm a little bit older."
And clearly more mature. Moss was friendly, engaging and downright likable during the hour that he held court, the first time since the Patriots arrived in Arizona for the big game against the New York Giants that he faced reporters.
"Everything that's been happening has been positive this year and I don't want to reflect on anything negative," he said in his distinctive West Virginia twang. "I've never been that type. I think that's what really drives me and makes me stronger to go out there and makes things happen."
Moss avoided trouble all season until earlier this month, when a longtime friend accused him of committing "battery causing serious injury" to her at her Florida home. Moss has denied the accusations. A temporary restraining order against him has been extended until March 28.
"I haven't really been thinking about that, man," Moss said. "I mean, I'm here for the Super Bowl, one of the biggest times of my life as far as a professional athlete, so I'm not really considering anything negative at this time."
Football and fun didn't seem to be an ideal combination for Moss anymore after two mediocre seasons with Oakland, where people said he lost a step and his desire for the game.
"I really thought that something special could happen in Oakland, but things started getting in the way with coaching and playcalling and players and stuff like that, so the team concept was kind of screwed up in Oakland," Moss said. "Not knowing if I would ever get up on this stage, I had to stay positive."
He's done that even this season, when he hasn't seen as many throws as he'd like. In the Patriots' two previous playoff games, Moss had just two catches for 32 yards total — mainly because he was being double- and sometimes triple-teamed by Jacksonville and San Diego.
"I think early in my career, I would've probably went over there and tried to voice my opinion of certain plays and certain ways to get open," he said. "Now I've got younger guys. Their bodies are a little bit fresher and their legs are a little bit fresher than mine, so I definitely don't have a problem with what they're doing."
From all accounts, Moss has been an ideal teammate with the Patriots and opposing players have noticed.
"He's a great player and always been a great guy, a first-class guy, and all that negative stuff tends to take away from all that he does on the field," Giants cornerback Sam Madison said. "He's here now and he's doing great and everybody wants to pat him on the back and shake his hand and be around him now, where a few years ago they were trying to kick him out of the league."
After he was traded from Minnesota to Oakland and had 60 catches in 2005 and a career-low 42 last season, many teams wondered if Moss was even half the player he once was. The Patriots took a chance.
"Since I've been playing in this league, Moss has been the best receiver to play," Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress said. "Over the last few years, ever since I've been in the league, he has been the best."
All New England gave up was a fourth-round draft pick last April for Moss, who is a free agent after the season but wants to end his career with the Patriots.
"Here in one season, these memories shatter all those I had in Minnesota and Oakland," Moss said. "I'm happy and very blessed to be where I am now. I had some great memories of my years in Minnesota, right from my rookie year, and some good memories in Oakland."
But nothing like those he's experienced with New England.
"I think a lot of things got in the way where football wasn't really the main priority around there anymore," Moss said, referring to Oakland. "Knowing that I still had a few more years to be playing football, I wanted to make the best of the next couple of years or however long I have left to play in this league. To be able to become a New England Patriot, man, it's something I never dreamed would happen.
"I've always said from the day I got here that I'm still living a dream and I'm still happy to be a part of this."