San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Randy Moss during media day in preparation for Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
NEW ORLEANS -- A leap-out-the-stadium, pass-catcher extraordinaire in his prime, Randy Moss believes no other player compares at his position in NFL history. He said so Tuesday. Yes, Jerry Rice included.
"I really do think I'm the greatest receiver to ever play this game,'' the San Francisco 49ers veteran said in response to a question from USA TODAY Sports at Super Bowl XLVII media day.
Few people know Moss better than former NFL receiver Cris Carter, a longtime mentor who doesn't concur with his former Minnesota Vikings teammate's assessment. But Carter, now an ESPN analyst, agrees that Moss - the once-spectacular vertical downfield threat more often used as a decoy in the twilight of his career - came into the league with the potential to unseat Rice's generally acknowledged claim to the crown.
If, only if.
WHAT?: Things Moss actually said at media day
"He didn't have enough good habits early (in his career) to be the greatest ever,'' Carter told USA TODAY Sports. "You have to be a grinder - mentally and physically. Jerry wasn't the most talented, but he clearly was the best receiver ever. I really think Jerry Rice wanted to be the greatest; I don't think Randy Moss (did). I don't think you can accomplish something you never think of - or aspire to be. (Otherwise), Randy would have been the guy to carry the torch.''
In 2010, the NFL Network selected Rice as the greatest player, regardless of position. The Hall of Famer is the league's all-time leader in touchdowns (208), receptions (1,549) and yardage (22,895). Rice's 49er teams won three Super Bowl rings.
Moss has yet to be fitted for his first chunk of championship bling but, "For me to be here is just like a dream,'' he said. "I never would have thought of this in a million years that this would happen.''
Rice, 50, also an ESPN analyst these days, addressed Moss' comments on-air Tuesday by saying, "I let my career speak for itself.''
Some might argue that, before Moss can claim he is the greatest receiver in NFL history, he first would have to be viewed as the best receiver to ever play for the 49ers.
"I think back when Jerry was playing - and no disrespect to Jerry Rice because he's arguably the greatest - but for me to revolutionize the game (because of modified defenses designed to thwart him), that's what I really (hang) my hat on,'' Moss said.
Moss did not deny that a lack of proper focus and dedication to his craft early in his career hindered him reaching his full potential. It is unclear whether Moss will continue his career after Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens but he indicated he would like to play a 15th NFL season in 2013.
"I don't like my role - I really don't,'' he said. "(But) I understand my presence. I don't have to always touch the ball for us to score. I had to grow to understand it.''
Can you blame him? This is the same player who morphed into his own verb - how many players can say that? Many of Moss' young 49ers teammates relate to him because, at one time, they were him when playing video football games.
"He is (responsible) for the legendary slogan, 'You got Moss'd!'" said 49ers fullback Bruce Miller, 25. "We used to say it all the time.''
While Moss claimed Tuesday that, "I don't really regret anything,'' he wondered what might have been in his heyday. With issues on and off the field, Moss clearly squandered some of his freakish abilities despite racking up impressive statistics and a library of highlight-reel plays.
"I think I would have put a little more focus in my preparation,'' he said. "My focus (now) is somewhere where I really haven't seen it. I'm not braggin' on myself. (But) it feels weird now that my focus . . . wasn't like that earlier in my career. If I would have put that much effort back in the day, it might have been different.''