Yet one of the most talked about controversies and headlines surrounds a player that only reeled in 28 passes this season; Randy Moss. And instead of talking about Super Bowl XLVII, we're debating who the best receiver of all-time is.
Moss is playing in his second Super Bowl after losing with the New England Patriots 17-14 in 2008. But after being basically irrelevant and just along for the ride with the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers, Moss is among the top headlines of Super Bowl week with this claim: That he is the greatest wide receiver to ever play the game.
There is no doubt that Moss is one of the all-time greats. He's going to be a first ballot NFL Hall of Famer. He is the most athletic wide out to ever put on a jersey. He is the best deep threat the game has ever seen. Moss was so good that the Cover 2 was created to try and stop him. In 1999, the year following Moss' rookie campaign that included a rookie record 17 touchdowns, the division rival Green Bay Packers first three draft choices were defensive backs (Antuan Edwards, Fred Vinson, Mike McKenzie) in an attempt to stop Moss.
But there is one main reason that Moss is, in fact, not the greatest wide receiver in the history of the NFL: his character issues.
Should players be ranked solely by their character? Probably not. If it were, Mahatma Gandhi would have several MVP awards. Many would argue that Moss shouldn't be put into the two categories of "Moss as a player" and "Moss in terms of his character." But if I'm down by two touchdowns with 10 minutes left, I would rather have Jerry Rice lined up wide than Moss. The thing about Moss is that you have to take into account of what you don't get out of him versus what you do. It's about what you don't give, despite your remarkable ability. Moss only played when he wanted to play. And, if anything, that prevents you from being the best of all time.
Moss' flaws go back to when he was in high school. A highly touted prospect, Moss was courted by Notre Dame and Florida State. But stints in jail for drug use and a battery charge forced them to withdraw their scholarship offers. Moss ended up going to NCAA Division I-AA school Marshall. Moss flourished at Marshall, leading the team to the Division I-AA title the season before the school moved to Division I-A.
Moss' reputation upheld during the 1998 NFL Draft. The Fred Biletnikoff Award winner and Heisman finalist was expected to be the most watched contestant of the NFL Combine, but he was a no-show. Rumors began to swirl that Moss was absent to avoid the drug test. Moss opted to work out at the Marshall pro day, where scouts from nearly every NFL team came to watch him work out. Moss turned in a legendary performance, running the 40-yard dash in just 4.25 seconds, despite running into the wind. He also posted a 47 inch vertical while catching nearly every pass thrown.
Despite that, Moss slipped to the Minnesota Vikings with the 21st overall pick. While Moss established himself as one of the league's best wide outs, he was also upholding his reputation for off-the-field issues:
- 2001: Moss tests positive for marijuana.
- 2002: While driving in downtown Minneapolis, Moss was preparing to make an illegal turn.Traffic control officer Amy Zaccardi stood in front of his car to prevent him from doing so, and ordered him to stop. Moss did not comply with the Zaccardi's order. He bumped her with his vehicle and she fell. Moss was arrested, and a search of his vehicle revealed a joint of marijuana. Moss was charged with felony Suspicion of Assault with a Deadly Weapon and a misdemeanor for marijuana possession.
- 2004: With the Vikings trailing 21-18 to the Washington Redskins with two seconds left, Moss walked off the field to the locker room and drew criticism for quitting on his team.
- 2005: The sixth-seeded Minnesota Vikings traveled to Lambeau Field to take on the heavily-favored Green Bay Packers in the first playoff meeting of the division rivals. Moss caught four passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns. After his second score, Moss jogged to the end zone goal post and imitated mooning the Green Bay fans. Moss was fined $10,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct. Moss is traded to the Oakland Raiders one month later.
- Also in 2005, during an interview with Bryant Gumbel, Moss admits the he smoked marijuana during his NFL career.
- 2008: Moss is hit with a temporary injunction for protection against dating violence. Moss allegedly committed a battery upon Rachelle Washington, causing her bodily injury then refused to allow her to seek medical attention. Two months later, Washington filed papers requesting the restraining order be dissolved. No criminal charges were ever filed.
You have a player like Rice, who was the hardest working player on the field, always working with other people, loved by his teammates, a real morale boosting guy. But with Moss, you don't get any of that. And those factors need to be considered when you're distinguishing the title of "Best Ever".
Rice told fans to look at the numbers, so here they are:
|Jerry Rice||Randy Moss|
|Receptions||1,549 (1)||982 (9)|
|Yards||22,895 (1)||15,292 (3)|
|Touchdowns||197 (1)||156 (2)|
|Yards per Reception||14.8||15.6|
|Yards per Game||75.6 (5)||70.1 (16)|
|1st Team All-Pro||10||4|
|Approx. Value||250 (2)||161 (41)|
|(denotes all-time rank)|
|*Not in top 250|
Looking at Rice's inflated numbers, many would argue that he was catching passes from two Hall of Famers in Joe Montana and Steve Young while Moss was catching the majority of his passes from (excluding Tom Brady), Brad Johnson, Randal Cunningham, Jeff George, Daunte Culpepper and Kerry Collins.
Although many people say that a quarterback makes his receivers better, a quarterback is only as good as his receivers. If you are gonna say Moss would have lived happily ever after with Montana and Young, you would have to re-write his personality. Moss, even if he had the perfect situation, would have found a way to be miserable. He had his Hall of Fame quarterback in New England, alongside a coach who is probably the most tolerant of personalities like Moss, and even they got tired of the act.
Jerry Rice's 303 games makes him the second non-kicker in the Top 10 (Brett Favre played in 302 games).
Numbers comparing the two aren't available since Rice missed most of the 1997 season with knee injuries. But below are Moss' current numbers with Rice's numbers when he was 35 (and coming off a torn ACL, MCL, and fractured kneecap) and 42.
|Moss (age 35)||2||28||434||3|
|Rice (age 36)||16||82||1,157||9|
|Rice (age 42)||14||30||429|| |
A 35-year-old Moss' numbers are almost identical to the 42-year-old Rice. When Rice was 40, he caught 92 passes for over 1,200 yards. When you can be excellent for that long, that is how people are going to set the bar for the distinction of greatest of all time.
When everybody knew that he was the guy, Rice still got the ball. He ran his routes. He ran over the middle of the field. He didn't go through the motions on running plays to such a degree that defenses knew what was coming. The idea that fans are putting Moss ahead of Rice because he was more talented is crazy. When you're judging the greatest of all time, it should be a combination of what you have physically, what you do with what you have physically and how you augment it mentally. The most amazing thing about Rice is that he did it without Moss' physique, his speed, or his size.
Secondly, you can't be the greatest of all-time and be moved around as much as Moss has. Yes, Rice played for three different franchises, but spent the first 16 years of his 20-year career with the San Francisco 49ers. Two seasons ago, Moss was moved twice in the same season: first traded from New England to Minnesota (for a third round pick), and one month later cut by Minnesota and picked up by Tennessee. That tells you that even the people who gained from his talent grew tired of other aspects of his performance to the point where they had to move on.
I get the spectacular appeal of Moss. That's always going to be more appealing than Rice. But game after game, season after season Rice was always that good; that consistent; that dominant. He was not as exciting, but I'll still say if you can make a 30-yard pass reception out of a five-yard catch, being capable of going deep and going over the middle, and finding a way to do it without Moss' speed. His fundamentals were so solid, his burst was so good that even though he didn't have the raw tools that Moss did, he put together what he did.
That is what defines greatness.