NFL Side Stories

Randy Moss or Jerry Rice – Who Ya Got?


Synopsis: If given the option, who would you chose between Jerry Rice and Randy Moss? Arguably the two greatest receivers in NFL history, one proved to be the epitome of excellence while the other had a flair for the spectacular. While Moss had impressive career totals of 156 TDs and over 15,000 yards, he fell far short of Rice’s career totals of 197 TDs and almost 23,000 yards. Still, I’d like to ask Tom Brady which receiver he’d prefer to have in his huddle. For that matter, I’d like to ask Joe Montana or Steve Young the same question. I imagine the former 49ers would stick together. However, I’m sure both QBs would have relished throwing to Moss as well.


Teams took quarterbacks with five of the first 12 overall picks in the 1999 Draft. When taken as a whole, the five QBs cover the full spectrum.

  1. Super-star / Probable Hall of Famer: #2 overall pick Donovan McNabb.
    • Led team to five NFC Championship Games (including four in a row) and one Super Bowl.
  2. Star / One-time MVP: #11 overall pick Daunte Culpepper.
    • Had some great seasons (including winning 1 MVP award), but some bad ones too.
  3. Disappointment: #1 overall pick Tim Couch.
    • Averaged 2,200 yards and 13 TDs per year during 5-year career.
    • Unexceptional, but not as bad as remembered
    • Perception of career hurt by 22-37 record as Browns’ QB after four-year absence from league
  4. Bust: #12 overall pick Cade McNown.
    • Finished NFL career with 16 TDs and 19 INTs. 
    • Named Honorable Mention Top 10 Bust based on stats and 3-12 career record.
    • To his credit though, he had a 2-0 record stealing Playboy Playmates.
  5. Top 10 Bust: #3 overall pick Akili Smith. 
    • Even worse than McNown given 3-14 career record with five TDs and 13 INTs.

Both McNown and Smith certainly underachieved enough to be remembered as busts. However, another QB from this group also may deserve consideration. As a hint, it’s not Tim Couch. Huh? Well, let me explain.


McNabb finished his career as a six-time Pro-Bowl quarterback who led the Philadelphia Eagles to five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl. As a result, he’ll be making a trip to the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio someday (and not as a visitor).

During his career with Philadelphia, Washington, and Minnesota, McNabb went 98-62-1. Interestingly, that one tie may be more memorable than any of his other regular season games. Despite being a 10-year NFL veteran at the time, McNabb played nonchalantly towards the end of the overtime period thinking that the Eagles would get another chance in double overtime. Apparently, he didn’t realize that regular season games could end in a tie. The mistake was boneheaded, but not bust-worthy.

Perhaps the only other blemish in McNabb’s career involved his similarly nonchalant play during crunch time in Super Bowl XXXIX. Even though he denies it, McNabb supposedly puked while coming out of the huddle during a key drive at the end of the game. If true, it wouldn’t have been the first time that happened to him during a game.

Despite all the cameras at the Super Bowl, there’s no Zapruder film of McNabb vomiting.

Down 24-21 with 46 seconds to go, the Eagles got the ball back for the last time on their own 4-yard line. Whether sick or just tired (as McNabb claims), the quarterback lacked the necessary urgency to lead the comeback. Terrell Owen’s condemnation of his QB after the game may not have been warranted. Regardless, McNabb didn’t take advantage of a potential “Hey, isn’t that John Candy?” moment either.

At the start of the 49ers’ game-winning drive in Super Bowl XXII, Joe Montana eased tensions in the huddle by pointing into the crowd and asking “Hey, isn’t that John Candy?”

Despite going to four consecutive NFC Championship games, McNabb only made it to one Super Bowl. Still, he had an illustrious career worthy of Canton. As such, he’s not the QB in question.


For those of you paying attention, that leaves Daunte Culpepper as the potential bust. Undeniably the second best quarterback in the 1999 Draft, Culpepper had several outstanding seasons. However, he had others which were quite bad. As the following table shows, WR Randy Moss had a big impact in determining Culpepper’s success. 

  Overall Record Games Played Yards Yards / Game TD INT Passer Rating
With Moss 36-37 14.6 3,720 253.5 25.8 14.8 92.8
Without Moss 5-22 5.4 1,111 184.2 4.0 6.4 71.1

Between 2000-2004, Culpepper had three incredible seasons.  

  1. In 2000, when he threw for 3,937 yards and 33 TDs.
    • With 1,437 yards and 15 TDs to Moss.
  2. In 2003, when he threw for 3,479 yards and 25 TDs.
    • With 1,379 yards and 12 TDs to Moss.
  3. In 2004, when he won the MVP after throwing for 4,717 yards and 39 TDs,
    • With 767 yards and 13 TDs to Moss. Of note, Moss sat out for three games with a hamstring injury.

During their five seasons together, Culpepper and Moss connected for 5,648 yards and 49 touchdowns. During his five seasons without Moss, Culpepper never threw for more than 1,600 yards or had more than six touchdowns in a season. Hmm.

As an aside, Gus Frerotte (yeah, the guy who head-butted a concrete wall) started two games for the Vikings in 2003. Culpepper’s replacement won both games after throwing for 506 yards with six touchdowns and only one interception. In those two games, Randy Moss accounted for 253 yards and five touchdowns. To emphasize, Moss accounted for five of the six touchdowns in Frerotte’s two starts. Double Hmm.


If Randy Moss could help a decent quarterback become great, imagine what he could have done for a great quarterback. Actually, we can look at Tom Brady to get another view of the Randy Moss Effect. In Brady’s magical 2007 season (the one with a 16-0 regular season), the all-time great QB threw for 4,806 yards and 50 TDs. At the same time, Moss accounted for 1,493 yards and a single-season record of 23 touchdowns.

Excluding that incredible season, Brady has only exceeded 30 TDs three times (2010-2012). In contrast, Peyton Manning has surpassed 40 TDs twice (49 in 2004 and 55 in 2013) and 30 TDs six additional times. Given Manning’s 22 TDs after seven games this year, he almost certainly will exceed 30 TDs for the ninth time and likely will exceed 40 TDs for the third time. In fact, he’s even on pace to surpass 50 TDs for the second time. [As an update, Manning finished the 2014 season with “only” 39 TDs.] 

Ten years ago, Brady seemingly became Joe Montana’s successor as the NFL’s G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time). At the time, Brady had a 9-0 playoff record and three Super Bowl titles in four years. Although a better quarterback today, he’s only 9-8 in the playoffs and 0-2 in the Super Bowl since then. He may not even be on the Mount Rushmore of NFL QBs anymore. As of now, it’s hard to replace Brady. Then again, Peyton Manning may be one Super Bowl victory away from replacing him. 

[As a further update, both Brady and Manning have won one more ring each so the argument continues. Brady has a four to two edge in Super Bowl Championships. However, Manning has a 3-1 edge against his nemesis in AFC Championship Games (plus every individual career passing record). Perhaps more interestingly, both all-time greats have been involved in scandals (Deflategate for Brady and an allegation of HGH use by Manning) which may prevent either one from achieving G.O.A.T. status.]


In case you’re wondering, I believe the following quarterbacks are the most deserving of football immortality.

  • Otto Graham (as Washington): the first great QB.
  • Johnny Unitas (as Jefferson): the greatest QB to overlap the pre/post Super Bowl Era
    • One helped transition the doubling of the country while the other helped transition the doubling of the league.
  • Joe Montana (as Lincoln): The NFL G.O.A.T.

For me, the players up for the Teddy Roosevelt carving include Brady, Manning, John Elway, Brett Favre, and Dan Marino.

If this hypothetical Mount Rushmore included other positions, Jim Brown likely would be the only unanimous choice. After reserving a second spot for Montana, I would accept one player from Group A (Unitas or Rice) and one player from Group B  (Dick Butkus or Lawrence Taylor).


I don’t know if there’s a correlation or if it’s just a coincidence, but Brady/Belichick haven’t won a Super Bowl since Adam Vinatieri left or Spygate was exposed. [As indicated by my previous update, this observation is no longer valid. However, the Patriots have another controversy (Deflategate) overshadowing their most recently championship despite whatever Bostonians believe.]  I could add that one of Brady’s three Super Bowl titles wouldn’t have happened without the “Tuck Rule,” but then again, he lost another title to one of the most improbable plays in NFL history.

tyree catch
This picture only makes the catch seem even more improbable.

Unlike “The Catch” or “The Immaculate Reception,” David Tyree’s miraculous grab surprisingly doesn’t have a universally known moniker. Options include: Catch-42 (the play happened in Super Bowl XLII); The E-mmaculate Connection (my favorite given the near sack on the play); and The Helmet Catch (self-explanatory).


As a 2000 6th round pick, Tom Brady may be the greatest steal in the NFL draft history. Unlike 1999, no quarterbacks were taken at the top of the draft that year. In fact, #18 overall pick Chad Pennington was the only QB drafted in the first two rounds of the 2000 draft. Of note, Pennington entered the draft having won the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the Most Outstanding QB in college. Additionally, he finished 5th in the Heisman balloting after passing for 3,799 yards and 37 touchdowns.

Despite that success, Pennington’s college career might be more memorable for his breakout season in 1997 when he threw for more yards (3,817) and more touchdowns (42) than during his awarding-winning season. That breakout year included 1,820 yards and 26 TDs to one receiver. Want to take a guess? That’s right it was Randy Moss. Triple Hmm.

Despite Moss’ tremendous talent, many teams avoided him in the 1998 draft because of numerous legal issues that led to him losing his scholarship to Notre Dame and getting kicked out of Florida State. To repeat, he got kicked out of Florida State! In that draft (which is better known for having Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf as the first two selections), Moss fell to the Minnesota Vikings as the 21st overall pick.  Moss continued to have issues after turning pro, but he survived them to become one of the most productive receivers of all-time.

While in the NFL, Moss had a few run-ins with the league office (e.g. positive drug test, fine for squirting water on a ref, fine for an inappropriate touchdown celebration). Moss’ response to a question about how he paid the fine he received for “mock-mooning” Green Bay fans is often still quoted.


Randy Moss Straight CAsh Homey

Moss’ exchange with the reporter [which can be seen here] was entertaining to some but poorly received by others. The Vikings clearly fell into the second group because one month later they traded him to the Raiders for a mediocre linebacker and a 1st round pick.  Interestingly, the Vikings used that pick to select Troy Williamson. As detailed in a previous post, Williamson just couldn’t catch the ball. As such, he became an Honorable Mention Top 10 Bust.

In addition to these league-related issues, Moss faced more serious legal issues when he knocked over a traffic cop with his car and allegedly assaulted a girlfriend to the point that she needed medical attention. No criminal charges were filed in the assault and the incident with the traffic cop was a figurative and literal flop so he escaped any significant legal repercussions. Moss certainly was a polarizing player who self-admittedly didn’t always try his hardest. However, his on-field contributions cannot be questioned. As the second greatest wide receiver of all-time with a WAV of 123, Moss proved to be well worth the risk of a 21st overall pick.

Despite the theory suggested in the first paragraph, I don’t mean to suggest that Daunte Culpepper wasn’t a good quarterback. I believe there was a significant Randy Moss Effect, but not enough to turn a bad QB into a good one. Regardless, the discussion should make you say, “Hmm.”


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