NEW ORLEANS --
Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver James Lofton was praising Randy Moss about 40 yards from where Moss was seated during Tuesday's Super Bowl media day inside the Superdome.
"Randy Moss," said Lofton, "is the greatest deep receiver to ever play the game. His ability to adjust to the ball in the air is unrivaled. He could speed up, he could slow down, he could elevate. Great hands.
"He is one of the five best receivers overall to ever play the game. And the only reason I'm saying five is I want to mention Don Hutson, Lance Alworth and Raymond Berry. Randy is No. 2 behind Jerry Rice."
Pretty impressive stuff, eh? Well, not good enough. Or so said the SuperFreak.
By now, the world knows that roughly a 40-yard dash from where Lofton said those words, Moss was upping the ante. It was an honest, thoughtful opinion by a man who couldn't care less that it also was the ultimate blasphemy by any receiver, let alone one wearing the very same team colors of Rice's San Francisco 49ers.
"I really do think I'm the greatest receiver to ever play the game," Moss said.
Moss explained his position. He mentioned, correctly, how his rare talent changed defenses. The now-popular defensive scheme that relies on two deep safeties and a deep middle-read linebacker is called the "Tampa 2" because it was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who created it because they had to play Moss twice a year in the old NFC Central.
"No disrespect to Jerry Rice because he's arguably the greatest," Moss said. "But for me to revolutionize the game, that's what I really put my hat on."
Rice, who played in the NFL from 1985 to 2004, holds all the major career receiving records in NFL history. He is first in catches (1,549), yards (22,895) and touchdowns (197).
Rice has also never really had to defend the universal belief that he is the greatest receiver in NFL history. Until Tuesday.
"I let my career speak for itself," said Rice, now an ESPN analyst.
Moss a game-changer
As things tend to do during a long week that includes only 60 minutes of actual football, the topic was dragged by reporters to the next hour-long media session on Wednesday morning. This time -- and stay with us here -- reporters wanted to know what Moss had to say about what Rice had to say about what Moss said.
"Everybody is going to have their opinion," Moss said. "I do not live on numbers. If you sit here and just said who is the greatest running back? Statistically, it is Emmitt Smith. People would say Barry Sanders, Gale Sayers or Jim Brown. Their numbers do not match Emmitt Smith, but people would say Emmitt Smith is the best running back."
Pushed on it, Moss pushed back.
"You make your own judgment," he said. "I know what I think. I am not going to sit up here and tell you how to look at it and how to judge it. I think I am the greatest receiver ever, point blank. Next question."
Moss' 14-year career has had many stages. He was the SuperFreak who took the league by storm with the Vikings in 1998, catching 17 touchdown passes as a rookie determined to punish everybody for his draft-day slide to No. 21 overall.
Despite the combination of size and speed that made him one of football's biggest stars for seven seasons with the Vikings, his various transgressions on and off the field led the team to trade him to the Raiders in 2005, where he was a frustrated flop for two seasons. He was resurrected in 2007 with a league-record 23 touchdowns for a Patriots team that was 18-0 when it was upset in the Super Bowl.
In 2010, he wore out his welcome for the first time in New England and the second time in Minnesota. His worst season ended as a forgettable Tennessee Titan.
He retired and sat out the 2011 season. He returned in 2012 as essentially a role player for the 49ers, tying career lows in catches (28) and touchdowns (three). He has five catches for 71 yards and no touchdowns in two postseason games this season.
Moss, who wants to play one more season, said he doesn't like his role, but accepts it because the team was successful.
"I've always been a team player," said Moss, who turns 36 on Feb. 13. "I've never been about self."
Bad habits cost him
Moss ranks second in career TD catches (156), third in receiving yards (15,292) and ninth in catches (982). But his touchdown average per game (.715) is better than all 21 of the modern era receivers in the Hall of Fame.
Cris Carter, Moss' former Vikings teammate and current Hall of Fame finalist, has had his spats with Moss, pulling no punches in his current role as ESPN analyst. Tuesday, Carter told USA Today that Moss could have been the greatest receiver of all time but wasn't because, "He didn't have enough good habits early [in his career] to be the greatest ever."
Moss wasn't aware of Carter's comments when he admitted that he should have focused harder as a younger player. Then, in typical Moss fashion, he shifted gears abruptly when asked why he doesn't have the widespread appeal of some of the league's other great players.
"I didn't sell my soul to anyone," he said. "I've always done it my way. I don't try to be better than the next man or try to break any laws or rules. I know there are some people who like me. I know there are lots out there who don't. I don't know why and I don't really care."