NEW ORLEANS — Randy Moss had been lying low. And then he went ahead and called himself the greatest wide receiver in the history of the NFL.
Everyone pounced on the proclamation, but hardly anybody agreed with Moss. The naysayers brandished statistics to demonstrate that Bay Area legend Jerry Rice was the best ever, and they went beyond Rice's massive leads in career catches, yards and touchdowns. Another number works to Rice's advantage. He owns three Super Bowl rings.
Moss is still looking for his first NFL title, a quest that may or may not end on the Superdome field this Sunday.
"I think that what I've accomplished in my professional career and throughout my whole life of playing football, I've really wanted a championship on every level," Moss said. "I've always told myself that I wanted to win a championship on this level. Having a Super Bowl ring, I think my career would be complete."
Whether you rank Moss first, second, third or further down the list, there is no denying his impact on the league. He burst upon the scene like a meteor as a rookie in 1998, outrunning, outleaping and outgrappling defensive backs all over the league. He has been voted to six Pro Bowls along the way, but it wasn't until the last of his Pro Bowl seasons, in 2007, that Moss finally played in a Super Bowl.
That was in 2007, when he broke the NFL record (previously held by Rice) with 23 touchdown receptions for New England, helping the Patriots go undefeated en route to Super Bowl XLII in Arizona. They were heavily favored over the New York Giants in that game, but lost 17-14 on a last-minute touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress.
Moss still has not watched a replay.
"There's just something about '07, being undefeated going into a Super Bowl and losing it like that," he said. "I'll never forget that moment because it's not fun when you're sweating and you have confetti dropping down and sticking to your face, knowing that you're not on the winning side of the confetti."
Five years later, now 34, Moss is at a very different point in his career. He isn't setting records these days. In fact, he isn't seeing the field as much as he would like. Moss is the 49ers' No. 2 wide receiver (far below Michael Crabtree) only because of injuries to Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams. His 28 receptions and three touchdowns this year both tied for the lowest figures of his career.
While acknowledging the reality of the situation, Moss has stated more than once that he doesn't care for his supporting role in San Francisco.
But even a limited role is better than what Moss experienced a year ago. After a disastrous 2010 season divided among three different teams, he and the NFL seemed to reach a mutual agreement to part ways. Teams generally ignored Moss, while he decided it was time to spend more time with his four children. It wasn't an easy call.
"I really did cry. I really did," Moss said. "I love this game of football so much. I don't like everything that comes with it, but going out on the field between the white lines and playing football is something I've always done. I've been doing it since I was 6 years old. For me to be able to just walk away from the game, knowing that I wasn't ready, mentally or physically, it really hurt me, man. It really depressed me."