The very idea seems laughable. How could anybody possibly match the brilliance and longevity of Jerry Rice? How could any receiver possibly match any of the career marks Rice set, especially when it comes to yardage and touchdowns?
The postseason marks are probably safe. Brilliance and longevity are tough enough for one wide receiver to possess, let alone team success on top of that. But are the regular season records Rice possesses as safe as most people think?
There’s no other receiver with a realistic chance to approach Rice’s hallowed numbers (besides maybe Andre Johnson, but even that’s a stretch) other than Randy Moss, who made news yesterday with his tantrum over not getting the Tom Brady treatment during his contract year. Apparently since he’s turning 33, the Patriots would rather let Moss work for his contractual security. Makes sense, because receivers are pretty much done by 33…
Hold on, just for one second. Before we start writing Moss’ professional obituary, check out Rice’s numbers in 1995, when he was 33:
122 receptions, 1,848 yards, 16 TD (1 rushing)
In other words, Rice’s best season in terms of receptions, yards and yards per game.
After 12 NFL seasons, Moss has caught 926 passes, gained 14,465 yards and scored 148 touchdowns (none rushing). Rice started his career as a 23-year-old (2 years older than Moss was during his rookie season), and his first 12 seasons led to 1,050 receptions, 16,377 yards and 164 TD (10 rushing). If you’re more interested in age than experience (which is the reason why Moss has set several “the youngest receiver to…” records), Rice had 920 catches, 13,275 yards and 139 TD (8 rushing) at Moss’ current age.
Here’s where you press the panic button and yell feverishly about rule changes meant to benefit the passing game. But that’s not the point of this post. Nobody’s going ever going to argue that Moss is a more complete player than Rice. Moss wouldn’t catch a pass across the middle if you offered him 20 Bentleys and the contents of Nate Newton’s van. But with those rule changes, and the fact that Moss has never suffered the type of knee injury that Rice did after his 12th season (yet), and there lies the distinct possibility that Moss will someday surpass Rice’s final totals of 1,549 receptions, 22,895 yards and 197 receiving touchdowns. (Rice’s career rushing totals of 645 yards and 10 TD are probably safe, however.)
Just because a receiver’s public persona is more about being sullen and feeling put-upon than climbing hills and catching bricks thrown from his father as a young child doesn’t mean the sullen receiver doesn’t work hard. No, Moss didn’t work all too hard in Oakland, but there aren’t too many rowers in sinking ships whose reaction to water rushing in is to paddle harder. But even if his percentage of routes ran at max-effort doesn’t inspire awe, Moss has always kept himself in shape.
And again, this isn’t about heart, clutch play or legacies. We’re talking strictly numbers here. And in this era, it’s foolish to assume Moss doesn’t have the skills, desire or opportunity to catch 624 passes, gain 8,431 yards or catch 50 touchdowns before he retires — especially if he cares enough about his long-term wealth to prove perceived doubters wrong.
A lot stands in Moss’ way. He doesn’t have the personality that makes one think he’ll take the transition from deep mega-threat to possession receiver well, like Rice did. Or the kind of fan-friendly persona to entice teams to continue giving him paychecks into his 40’s, like Rice. But while Moss may be found distasteful by many, to assume there’s no way he can average 1,000 yards and 7 touchdowns through his 40th birthday is, well, laughable.