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The greatest wide receiver in the history of the NFL played for both the 49ers and the Raiders, and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The most dominant receiver in the history of the NFL also played for the 49ers and the Raiders. And if there is a shred of justice in the world, he too will be voted into the halls of Canton on Feb. 3, when the Class of 2018 is announced.

There’s no doubt that Jerry Rice was the most complete pass catcher ever. Longevity matters. Precision matters. Consistency matters. Championships certainly matter. For 20 years, Rice defined the position.

But in terms of man-on-man dominance and pure unstoppability, there has never been anyone like Randy Moss in the first six years of his career in Minnesota, or his later spike with the Patriots. No one else could run that fast, jump that high, juke that quickly, and track and catch the ball with such reliability. Other receivers might have exceeded Moss in one or two of those categories; none of them offered the entire skill set.

I’ll say it this way: If I were a cornerback lined up to cover a guy one-on-one, the man who would terrify me the most is vintage Randy Moss.

That opinion may not sit well in the Bay Area, because unlike Rice, Moss isn’t remembered so fondly here. He carried a lot of off-field baggage with him, and acquired more of it during his two stays in California. And he was an on-field disappointment in both Oakland and San Francisco, further tarnishing our memories.

When the Raiders traded for Moss in 2005, he was only two years removed from a 111-catch, 1,632-yard, 17-touchdown season with the Vikings. He played two years in Oakland, and cumulatively failed to match those numbers. Then, after a record-breaking shift in New England (he caught 23 touchdown passes in 2007), Moss began a brief period of wandering that eventually led to San Francisco. He caught just 28 passes for 434 yards for the 49ers in 2012, which proved to be his final season.

Moss was one of the most enigmatic athletes I have covered, and I can’t say it was enjoyable. But read with one eye if you’re a Moss hater, because I’m here to praise the guy.

During those Bay Area experiments, he displayed all of the petulance and indifference that has attached to his career like a lamprey.

But he was briefly a Raiders sensation. Moss began the 2005 season with a 73-yard touchdown catch against the Super Bowl-champion Patriots, and had three 100-yard games by Week 4. Then he strained his groin, and the injury lingered for the rest of the season.

After the final game of 2005, coach Norv Turner, who knew he was about to be fired by Al Davis, gave an emotional speech to players in the Raiders locker room. Moss was nowhere to be seen. He had already ducked away from the stadium.

In the doomed 2-14 season under Art Shell in 2006, it was like Moss never clocked in. He was perpetually sullen, and not very productive. In November of that year, after a spate of dropped passes, he acknowledged, “My concentration and focus level tends to go down sometimes when I’m in a bad mood.”

His relationship with Bay Area media followed a similar arc. Moss subjected himself to a long group interview during his first training camp in Napa, in 2005, and again after a preseason game that year. He was fantastic. His sentences wandered in strange trails, but he was honest, funny and clearly intelligent.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get much from Moss after those first two Q&As. He became increasingly distant. By the middle of the 2006 season, Raiders beat writers were getting most of their Moss quotes from national radio shows.

This, by itself, is no crime. The Raiders have another player now, Marshawn Lynch, who is infamously closed to reporters. But Lynch doesn’t distinguish between local and national outlets, as Moss did, and he generally isn’t rude when declining interview offers; the guy just hates that part of the job.

Moss could be downright nasty to the media, as he sometimes was to fans. In the summer of 2005, I wrote a story about the task of feeding players during Raiders training camp. Press Democrat photographer John Burgess got access to the team dining hall, and at one point stood on a chair for a bird’s-eye view. “You take my picture and I’ll kill you, (bleeper-bleeper),” Moss snarled.

The next year, after the Raiders were squashed 16-0 on a dreary, rainy night in Seattle, reporters piled into the cramped visitors’ locker room at Qwest Field.

As we waited for quarterback Andrew Walter, we spilled in front of Moss’ locker, and the receiver was not happy about it. He barked at us, and Press Democrat columnist Lowell Cohn wound him up by feigning not to know his name. Moss was furious. “You don’t know me?!” he thundered. “I’m Moss! Eighteen!” That was his jersey number. He called Lowell some insulting names, too.

Moss’ year in San Francisco wasn’t as stormy. Nor was it memorable. He grumbled about his peripheral role in the offense, even as the 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl.

None of this sounds remotely flattering, but I’m going to tell you something that may surprise you. Moss’ teammates were crazy about him. I’m sure there were exceptions, but for the most part, they loved him in Alameda, and they loved him in Santa Clara.

At training camp in 2007, I went around and asked some of the Raiders veterans if they were happy to see Moss go. The Raiders, finally fed up with his attitude, practically gave him to New England on the second day of the 2007 draft, getting a fourth-round pick in return. Moss was no longer a teammate the Oakland players felt compelled to protect and, anyway, I gave them the opportunity to speak off the record if they preferred.

Most had nothing but affection for the guy. Safety Stuart Schweigert told me Moss rented out bowling alleys and movie theaters to host Raiders players and their families, even springing for pizza, beer and soft drinks. Schweigert organized a secret Santa event for disadvantaged families at Christmastime in 2006, and Moss took center stage without being asked, staying late to talk to kids and sign autographs.

“As far as the upper-echelon players, he’s been one of the nicest ones that I’ve met,” Schweigert said.

His 49ers teammates felt similarly, especially the team’s younger wide receivers. Kyle Williams said his first memory of Moss was at a voluntary offseason workout, when the six-time Pro Bowler attacked a one-man blocking sled and proclaimed himself the next Usain Bolt. Chad Hall said he was in Santa Clara for about five minutes when Moss approached and shouted, “Hey, did Marshall recruit you?”

Hall, a Georgia kid who went to the Air Force Academy, was stunned that Moss knew who he was.

This is the Moss that I remember. Or one of the Mosses. He was a brooding cloud in the postgame media scrum, and an occasional Excedrin headache to his coaches (like when he admitted to smoking weed “once in a blue moon” while with the Raiders in 2005). On the practice field, though, he was a breath of fresh air — always bantering with teammates in that West Virginia drawl, always enlisting guys to compete with him in a game of throwing accuracy game he invented.

I’m not claiming Moss was a perfect teammate, not by any means. I’m saying he managed to bring something valuable to his team, even in his worst years as a professional. I got small glimpses of those contributions. I just didn’t get to watch the most dominant wide receiver in NFL history. I wish I had.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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