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.”