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Updated: January 30th, 2013 2:55pm
Zulgad: The sad truth about why Randy Moss isn't the best receiver ever

Zulgad: The sad truth about why Randy Moss isn't the best receiver ever

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Randy Moss declared this week that he believes he is the greatest wide receiver to ever play the game.

Moss is wrong. He's not.

That honor belongs to Jerry Rice and from there the debate about who is second can begin.

But in giving ESPN and sports-talk shows invaluable fodder to discuss during Super Bowl week, one has to wonder this about Moss: Will he wake up one day long after his NFL career is over and realize that he could have been the greatest receiver to have played if only he had elected to apply himself.

There are no denying Moss' talents.

Moss, who at 35 is spending the twilight of his career with the San Francisco 49ers, served almost immediate notice upon his arrival with the Minnesota Vikings in 1998 that NFL teams had made a mistake by passing on him 19 times in the first round of that draft.

In his rookie season, Moss helped to redefine how we thought about the wide receiver position.

If you don't believe that, then you don't remember Oct. 5, 1998. On a rainy Monday night in Green Bay, Moss caught five passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns in a 37-24 victory at Lambeau Field with a national television audience watching.

It was during that game that Packers general manager Ron Wolf realized he needed to begin drafting bigger defensive backs to compete for vertical passes with the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Moss.

Unfortunately, Moss' dedication to the game of football depended not on how much his team needed him, but rather if he felt like giving an effort.

It was early in his career that ESPN analyst Merrill Hoge criticized Moss for taking plays off after watching coaches' film. Moss confirmed as much to Star Tribune sports columnist Sid Hartman in November 2001 with a quote that will live with Moss forever.

"I play when I want to play," Moss said. "Do I play up to my top performance, my ability every time? Maybe not. I just keep doing what I do and that is playing football. When I make my mind up, I am going out there to tear somebody's head off. When I go out there and play football, man it's not anybody telling me to play or how I should play. I play when I want to play, case closed."

Here's the interesting thing about Moss: This is man who despises authority, doesn't particularly seem to like adults and has a clear disdain for the media. However, when he does decide to talk to the press he can be extremely insightful and brutally honest.

You can question a ton of things about Moss but not question his smarts. This is a bright individual who has a better understanding of football than most.

But Moss wasn't blowing smoke when he said that he plays when he wants to play. He was telling the truth. And it was at moments like that that Moss was making the case for the teams that did pass on the chance to draft him.

His talents were freakish but Moss ended up playing college football at Marshall and dropping to the Vikings for a reason.

Not surprisingly, Rice raised an objection to Moss' claim of being the greatest.

Rice, now an analyst for ESPN, is the NFL's all-time leader with 1,549 receptions, 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns. He also won three Super Bowls in 20 seasons spent with San Francisco (1985-2000), Oakland (2001-2004) and Seattle (2004).

"I impacted the game by winning Super Bowls," Rice said. " ... Randy is still trying to win his first one, and I wish him the best, but I was very surprised that he said he's the best receiver to ever play the game. I leave that up to my fans to make that statement."

Moss has 982 receptions for 15,292 yards and 156 touchdowns in his 14-year career spent with the Vikings (1998-2004, 2010), Oakland (2005-06), New England (2007-10), Tennessee (2010) and San Francisco (2012). Sunday will mark his second Super Bowl appearance and at present he is 0-1.

"What I said was what I felt," Moss said Wednesday when asked to revisit his statement. "Like I said, I don't want to get in a shouting match with Jerry Rice or anybody. I mean that's my own personal opinion. I mean there's people that think just because he has the numbers, that he's the greatest, but I don't believe in numbers. I really don't."

That was Moss' contention beginning on Tuesday, that you can't look at numbers to determine the best. The problem is what else are historians supposed to look at? Moss' argument also comes up short if you don't look at the numbers.

Moss might have had great talent but declaring that you're going to play when you want doesn't exactly make people remember you as a true professional or leader of any kind.

Cris Carter might not have been beloved by the media, but he tried his best to mold Moss into a professional in 1998. Moss arrived back in Minnesota for a tumultuous month in 2010 and did far more damage than good in numerous areas, including when it came to Percy Harvin's development.

Moss attempted to point out Wednesday the quality of quarterbacks that Rice had to work with during the majority of his career. What Moss failed to mention is that he spent three-plus seasons with a first-ballot Hall of Famer in Tom Brady and broke Rice's record by catching 23 touchdown passes in 2007.

Guess who ruined the relationship between Moss and the Patriots? It wasn't the football team. Rice bounced around late in his career because he wanted to hang on too long. Moss began to bounce around during the prime of his career because he had become a pain.

Moss, like Brady, should go into Canton, Ohio, on the first ballot when he's eligible - it looks like he wants to stick around for at least one more season - and he should go down as a receiver who helped change the NFL as we know it.

What he won't go down as is the greatest receiver of all time. For that, Randy Moss has no one to blame but himself. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Percy Harvin, Randy Moss
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