Randy Moss: Better Than Jerry Rice?
by Glenn Dickey
May 17, 2005

ON ITS WEBSITE last week, Sports Illustrated used statistics to show that Randy Moss is ahead of Jerry Rice’s record-setting career pace, suggesting that Moss will ultimately be regarded as the best receiver in NFL history, as Rice is now.

What the statistics don’t show, though, is heart or desire, where Rice is off the charts and where Moss is, well, an occasional visitor.

Rice has always been driven to be the very best. In a training camp conversation in the ‘90s, Rice told me how he always checked on Michael Irvin and other top receivers to see how they were doing, because he was determined to do better.

That wasn’t just rhetoric. Rice fought through a rookie season in which he was totally confused early because of the complexity of the Bill Walsh offense, compared to the basic one his college team had run. Few remember it now, but Rice was ridiculed because of his many drops in the first half of his rookie season, 1985. When he learned the offense, he had a breakout game against the Los Angeles Rams, catching 10 passes for 241 yards, and went on to become the NFC Rookie of the Year.

That dedication caused Rice to follow Roger Craig’s torturous offseason training schedule, which others tried only briefly. Though he was never overweight, he lost weight with a diet plan to go with his training and became leaner and meaner.

When it came to the biggest games, Rice worked even harder – and he expected the same dedication from his teammates. When Deion Sanders broke curfew before the January, 1995 Super Bowl, it was Rice who called him out, even ahead of coach George Seifert.

Rice was at his best in the three Super Bowls in which he played, setting game records and earning the Most Valuable Player award as the 49ers beat Cincinnati in the January, 1989 game. (There was an amusing sidelight to that. Rice had assumed that the MVP got the “going to Disneyland” award and was miffed when he didn’t get it. In fact, the award had been set up to go to the quarterback of the winning team, who had been the MVP, too, in previous games. After the 1995 win, Steve Young insisted that Rice be included, so they both went to Disneyland.)

Rice’s dedication kept him going after he suffered a season-ending injury in the second game of the 1997 season. That robbed him of much of his speed and he became a possession receiver. When the 49ers released him after the 2000 season, he signed with the Raiders and had three productive seasons, with a best of 92 catches for 1211 yards in 2002.

At 42, his career seems finally over, but Rice is still trying to find a team that will sign him because he still has that fire, that drive that has fueled him from the start.

MOSS IS AN entirely different person.

If you’re looking at pure physical ability, Moss is ahead of every receiver who’s ever played, including Rice. He’s faster than Rice, probably stronger and certainly taller, with a better vertical leap. When he wants to be, Moss is literally unstoppable. He can outrun defensive backs and outjump them, a combination which makes him especially deadly in the end zone.

The key phrase in that description, though, is “When he wants to be.” Moss admitted in 2001 that he plays when he wants to, and that drove the Vikings crazy. Rice’s personal dedication fit well into the 49ers scheme because everything he did to achieve his personal goals helped the team, and he had the consistency for which coaches always dream. Coaches can’t count on Moss the same way.

Rice never did anything to embarrass the team or himself. He didn’t put on a show when he caught a touchdown pass, as so many receivers do today, preferring to act as if he’d been in the end zone before. Too bad Terrell Owens, who became the 49ers No. 1 receiver after Rice, didn’t follow that example.

Moss calls attention to himself, too, with his mooning of Green Bay fans, with his walking off the field before the game was officially over in a playoff game. But, though those actions got attention, they’re not as bothersome as the fact that a coach can’t count on Moss giving maximum effort on every play or in every game.

The 49ers never considered trading Rice in his prime, though he would certainly have brought a bundle in exchange. By contrast, the Vikings could hardly wait to trade Moss, and the Raiders got him for very little – their first-round draft pick and linebacker Napoleon Harris, a bust at this point – because nobody else was willing to give up much for Moss. That says a lot.

Raiders owner Al Davis has never been worried about a player’s reputation before he came to the Raiders, and perhaps Moss will change when he’s wearing the silver-and-black. More likely, though, he’ll be the same player he’s always been, making brilliant catches that excite everybody but then disappearing at times when the Raiders need him.

MOSS’S PERSONALITY also makes it unlikely he’ll have the longevity of Rice, because he doesn’t have that same feeling for the game.

Even if he plays long enough to break Rice’s records, though, he won’t compare to Rice in my eyes. Rice was dedicated to his team and his game, and that’s what drove him to be the best of all time. Moss is just a highlight film.

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