Picking Terrell Owens over Jerry Rice & Randy Moss as the 'Greatest of All Time'

Ryan MichaelSenior Writer IIIFebruary 9, 2013

19 Sep 1999:  Terrell Owens #81 and Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers at the sideline during the game against the New Orleans Saints at 3 Com Park in San Francisco, California. The 49ers defeated the Saints 28-21. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn  /Allsport
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Regardless of what the pundits might have you believe, one can make a legitimate case for Terrell Owens being the greatest wide receiver in NFL history.

"No way!"—Inebriated bar-goer screaming at the television screen.

If you attempt to refute this proclamation with predictable, unsubstantiated rhetoric the likes of "He's a locker room cancer" or "He disrupts team chemistry," then expect your arguments to be shot down swiftly.

Fact of the matter is that Owens should not only be considered one of the greatest to ever play the game, Owens is the greatest to ever play the game.

Popular opinion is irrelevant—reality is what it is.

For point of debate, I'm going to compare the careers of Owens, Randy Moss and Jerry Rice.

Rice is considered by most to be the "GOAT"—but he's not.

Moss considers himself to be the "GOAT"—but he's not.

Owens anoints Rice as the "GOAT"—but he's humbly mistaken.

Prepare yourself for the statistical breakdown. This is going to get deep.

Terrell Owens (201 starts):

1,078 receptions for 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns.

Randy Moss (193 starts):

982 receptions for 15,292 yards and 156 touchdowns.

Jerry Rice (284 starts):

1,549 receptions for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns.

If we're talking about the value of longevity, all three had it—Rice more so than anyone.

But if we're talking about who was truly the best in a "prime-for-prime" evaluation, the race begins to even itself out.

Terrell Owens (per-start times 16-rounded):

85.8 receptions for 1,268.4 yards and 12.2 touchdowns.

Randy Moss (per-start times 16-rounded):

81.4 receptions for 1,267.7 yards and 12.9 touchdowns.

Jerry Rice (per-start times 16-rounded):

87.3 receptions for 1,289.9 yards and 11.1 touchdowns.

All three players produced at a rate close to equal across the board.

Owens had more receptions for more yards than Moss.

Moss produced more touchdowns than Owens and Rice.

Rice had more receptions for more yards than Owens and Moss.

The rate of production might be a wash, but the quality of team support was far from equal.

When it came to playing within a Hall of Fame system under a Hall of Fame head coach (Bill Walsh), backed by top-tier defense led by a Hall of Fame safety (Ronnie Lott) while catching passes from two Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Joe Montana and Steve Young)—Rice stands out glaringly as the "greatest receiver of team support."

Close your eyes and imagine Rice standing in the locker room surrounded by Walsh, Montana, Young and Lott.

Now picture Owens sitting in a Philadelphia team meeting as Donovan McNabb lectures him and Freddie Mitchell about the finer points of receiving routes.

"C'mon, man."

To ignorantly ignore the incredible impact playing circumstances had upon all three players is to immediately disqualify yourself as being capable of evaluating talent.

Moss caught touchdowns from a 35-year-old Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, Daunte Culpepper, Todd Bouman, Gus Frerotte, Kerry Collins—but also Tom Brady in his prime for two-plus years.

Owens began his career playing with Young for a similar period before having to catch passes from Jeff Garcia, Ty Detmer, Jeff Brohm, Tim Rattay, Donovan McNabb, Brooks Bollinger, Drew Bledsoe, Tony Romo, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Carson Palmer (past his prime).

Owens produced as if he were Rice during the prime of his career while catching touchdowns from Garcia—almost as if it were Montana throwing him the football. 

As great as Moss and Rice were, both hit the prime of their careers when playing with Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

Think of Moss plucking Brady's touchdowns out of the sky. Think of Rice running crisp routes before being hit between the numbers as Montana and Young threw him precise passes.

Then look back to the prime of Owens' career as he reached out to capture Garcia's token "wobbles."

Rice had John Taylor and later Owens to help take away defensive coverage.

Moss had Cris Carter and later Wes Welker to help take away defensive coverage.

Owens' prime saw J.J. Stokes and Todd Pinkston standing cross-formation to soak up man-to-man coverages.

And it's an important factor to note—unlike Moss and Rice, Owens' prime flourished without a wing-man to free up coverages and without a Walsh or Bill Belichick to coach him up.

His production equaled and in some cases exceeded that of his contemporaries, and he did it without the same level of support coming from Hall of Fame quarterbacks and coaches.

Did you know: Owens is the only receiver in NFL history to be named a First Team All-Pro with three different organizations.

Tim Brown, Andre Reed, Isaac Bruce, Jimmy Smith, Irving Fryar and Hines Ward combined for zero First Team All Pro selections over the entirety of their careers combined.

Yet Owens excelled, produced and dominated at a top-tier level multiple times—earning five First Team All-Pro selections with three different organizations, three different head coaches and three different quarterbacks throwing him the football.

#BeastMode doesn't even begin to cover it.

While playing for a terrible Bengals team, Owens managed to produce at a rate comparable to the prime of his career before being injured in Week 12 of the 2010 season.

Owens (2001): 93 receptions for 1,412 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Owens (2010—projected over 16 games): 99 receptions for 1,435 yards and 13 touchdowns.

He was able to do so despite being swamped with double-coverages as a result of Cincinnati ranking 32nd (dead last) in terms of rushing efficiency (yards per carry).

He was able to do so despite playing part of the season with a broken hand.

I can't count the number of times I watched Moss being used as a decoy as he limped around the football field giving less than 84 percent of his best effort.

Compare that to Owens who, against doctor's orders, signed legal waivers so that he would be able to compete in Super Bowl XXXIX—risking his career on what was essentially a broken leg in an effort to help his team win a championship.

The same T.O. who torched Belichick's elite defense by catching nine passes for 122 yards on one leg—all of that production taking place on the game's greatest stage with Mitchell and Pinkston there to help absorb defensive coverage as a nauseous McNabb threw him the football.

Fast forward to [6:24] and the proof is in the footage.

To call Owens a warrior would be an understatement—the game's rightful MVP.

When it's all said and done, "perception" will be reality in the eyes of the nonsensical masses.

The media declares their favorites, and the fans gather like sheep to buy up their gospel.

I assure you this: Had Owens proclaimed himself to be the "greatest receiver of all time" prior to Super Bowl XXXIX the way Moss did prior to Super Bowl XLVII, he would have been crucified mercilessly by the media.

The same Moss who caught only two passes as his legacy hung in the balance.

Loafing around the football field during the Super Bowl as if he were imitating Brett Favre in training camp, people may be quick to point out that Moss' age (35) played a factor in his declining skills and lackadaisical effort.

Compare that to my substantiation of Owens producing at the same rate as the prime of his career, giving 100 percent to a horrific Bengals team at the age of 37.

Moss once famously stated that "There is no comparison" between himself and Owens.

Sorry, Randy, you're wrong.

Owens might not go down in history as the greatest to ever play the game, but that doesn't change reality.

All of these comparisons are simply a matter of opinion—only the competition isn't as distant as most of the alleged "expert analysts" would have you believe.

Everyone else is entitled to their opinion, and I'm entitled to mine.

Place me in the minority if you must, but it's a valid argument nevertheless.

Who is truly the "greatest of all time"?

I'll give my endorsement to T.O.

Ryan Michael is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report. Any questions, comments or professional inquiries can be directed to his email at: bleacherreporter@yahoo.com.

Follow him on Twitter at: @theryanmichael


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