Randy Moss created some headlines for Terrell Owens’ podcast this week when he declared he was the best wide receiver in NFL history. That caused a stir with many who believe that designation belongs to Jerry Rice.
Here is what Moss said, according to Pro Football Talk. “I’ll put myself first, I’ll put T.O. second,” he said. “I would put Jerry probably third or fourth. I’m talking about dominating the game and changing the game of football. I don’t live on statistics because if you live on statistics and live on championships that’s all political. You’ve seen guys released or cut from a team just by a couple words in the media. You’ve seen guys given contracts or you’ve seen guys not given contracts just because of the color of their skin. You’ve got to throw politics out of the game of football, and look at the impact of what each individual was able to make in the game of football.”
Obviously, it’s the first statement that got the most attention, along with the fact he placed Rice “third or fourth.” But let’s get past that and begin with the third sentence because that’s where it gets interesting and where Moss’ point can’t be dismissed.
Anyone who saw Moss’ impact as a rookie with the Vikings in 1998, knows what he did for the team’s offense and, more importantly, how much his high-flying style of play helped to shape the direction of the NFL. The fact that “You got Mossed” is still used by fans and players today is an indication of Moss’ lasting effect. Great wide receivers have had to wait to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame; Moss went in during his first year of eligibility in 2018.
Moss caught 17 touchdowns in his rookie season and averaged 19 yards a reception. This resulted in Packers general manager Ron Wolf, also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, taking defensive backs of 5 feet 11 or taller with his first three picks in the 1999 draft.
None of this means that Moss is better than Rice, but if you take that third sentence, and especially “changing the game of football,” it becomes easier to understand what he’s saying.
Owens backed up Moss by pointing out Rice played with Joe Montana and then Steve Young during much of his time in San Francisco. “When you think about Jerry and the quarterbacks he played with, he never had a drop-off in quarterback. He went from one Hall of Fame quarterback to another,” Owens said, according to PFT.
Rice took to Instagram after Moss’ comments to make the statistical case for why he’s the greatest. Rice, taken with the 16th pick in the 1985 draft by San Francisco, compared his stats to Moss’ but let’s throw Owens’ in, too, to see how they stack up.
Seasons: Rice 21, Owens 15, Moss 14
Receptions: Rice 1,549, Owens 1,078, Moss 982
Yards: Rice 22,895, Owens 15,934, Moss 15,292
Touchdowns: Rice 197, Owens 153, Moss 156.
Super Bowl wins: Rice 3, Owens 0, Moss 0
Super Bowl MVPs: Rice 1, Owens 0, Moss 0
Moss, who played with the Vikings until 2004 and then came back toward the end of his career for a turbulent one-month stay in 2010, caught an NFL single-second record 23 touchdowns in 2007 with the New England Patriots. That broke Rice’s record of 22 set in 1987. Of course, that was at a time when Moss was paired with Tom Brady, perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time.
Where Moss’ case takes a hit is when he says that statistics and championships are political. They are accomplishments on a resume for a debate exactly like this one, and the ability to stay with a successful franchise for a long period of time (Rice was with the 49ers for 16 seasons) can’t be dismissed.
Moss, now an NFL studio analyst for ESPN, made it clear he admires Rice. “I don’t want the fans and the people watching your podcast to get it messed up that we dislike or discredit anything Jerry Rice was able to do or ever accomplish,” Moss said. “I don’t want people to think myself and T.O. is slandering or bashing anything Jerry did, because Jerry was at the top.”
So where do we land on this issue? Moss is trying to reshape how many of us think of gaining GOAT status and that isn’t going to happen. Rice will continue to be considered the greatest by many. But if Moss wants to say that in his prime he dominated and changed the game like no other receiver, those of us who saw it happen will acknowledge he has a point.