I have enough trouble interpreting what’s inside my own head, so it’s not easy when people ask me to guess how my 47 fellow Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors will compare Randy Moss to Terrell Owens when we all reconvene in Minneapolis on Feb. 4 to select the Class of 2018.
My instincts tell me Moss won’t be judged as harshly as Owens, who hasn’t even made the final 10 in his first two years of eligibility. But as uniquely SuperFreaky as Moss was, he also is far from a lock to get one of the four modern-era slots not occupied by Ray Lewis, the one slam-dunk selection in ’18.
As I wrote Tuesday, I had Owens in my final 10. If given the chance, I would have placed him in my final five and voted yes because the old-fashioned eye test, the five first-team All-Pros and the production — particularly the 153 touchdowns — outweigh the strong argument that he was a locker room cancer who wore out his welcome with five teams.
In about 51 weeks, I’ll be asked to present the opening argument for Moss. He’s not my favorite person, but that doesn’t matter. I do think he’s worthy of being one of the few receivers not named Jerry Rice to enter the Hall on his first ballot.
Let’s look at the arguments for and against that notion. First, the reasons he’ll be chopped down during the selection process:
• The Vikings traded him in his prime. He was 27 when the Vikings shipped him to Oakland after the 2004 season. In stories I’ve done, then-owner Red McCombs is on record as saying Moss was impacting the locker room negatively. And if that was a sticking point for Owens among selectors, it could be a problem for Moss as well.
• The two Oakland years were depressing. Moss did surpass 1,000 yards with a 16.8-yard average and eight touchdowns in his first season there. But he had only 553 yards and three touchdowns in his second and final season as a Raider. The perception, true or not, is he tanked that 2006 season to get out of Oakland.
• As good as 99 percent of his stay in New England was, the ending probably will be brought up in the meeting room. After an early-season win in 2010, Moss turned to reporters to complain about his contract situation. Coach Bill Belichick traded him the next day. Moss went to Minnesota for a third-round draft pick and went down in flames — getting released a month later — while the Patriots finished the year 11-1 and made the playoffs.
• And, yes, there were plays when Moss didn’t try as hard as he should have. We’ll have to address and provide context to the infamous “I play when I want to play” quote. People forget or don’t realize Moss said that while shooting down a columnist’s theory that Cris Carter motivated him to play hard.
Now, let’s list a few reasons as to why Moss will break free from Owens and get selected:
• The 6-4, 215-pound self-proclaimed SuperFreak probably was the most unusually gifted receiver to come along in NFL history. He probably was the fastest player to come along that was that big, that long and possessed that kind of elite ball skills. There’s a reason he took the league by storm with 17 touchdowns as a rookie in 1998. Opponents didn’t know what to do with him.
• Speaking of which, in 1999, the rival Packers used their top three draft picks on defensive backs they hoped could contain Moss.
• Meanwhile, there’s a reason the Cover 2 defensive scheme is called the “Tampa 2.” It’s origin goes back to Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain days of the 1970s. But it was popularized in the late ’90s and early 2000s when then-Bucs coach Tony Dungy used the scheme as a tool to try and contain Moss when the Vikings and Bucs were in the same division.
• Moss’ 156 touchdowns rank No. 2 all-time. Yes, Owens has 153. But, still, 156 is more. Moss also ranks No. 3 in receiving yards behind Rice and Owens. He’s only 642 yards behind Owens, and has a higher average per catch (15.6 to 14.8).
• The Vikings set the NFL scoring record at 556 points in 1998. The Patriots broke that record with 589 points in 2007. Only one player was on both teams: Moss. Only one player was the primary weapon on both teams: Moss. He caught 17 touchdowns in 1998 and a record 23 as the Patriots became the only team to go 16-0 in the regular season.
• Although he was at the tail end of his career, Moss proved he could exist as a role player when he came back in 2012 to play for a 49ers team that advanced to the Super Bowl.
As a presenter, I’ll try to lay out the best case possible before the discussion begins. But Moss is going to need strong support and testimonials from former teammates — like a Tom Brady — and coaches — like a Bill Belichick. If he gets positive support in that area, that in itself will separate him from Owens.