NEW ORLEANS — Randy Moss long has been one of the NFL’s more eccentric characters. Blessed with prodigious talent and a football intellect to match — Bill Belichick has called him one of the smartest players he’s ever coached — the receiver has made his share of highlight reel plays, but he’s also been part of some interesting incidents away from the game he loves.
During the annual Super Bowl circus known as Media Day, Moss had one of the raised podiums and used his allotted hour to opine on a number of topics. He was engaging and expansive, an interesting turn for a player who typically hasn’t had much use for the media.
His best answer of the morning set Twitter on fire, as dozens of reporters could not wait to spread the word: Moss said he believes he is the best receiver the NFL ever has seen.
“I don’t think numbers stand. Because you can talk about this and that . . . This has been a down year for me statistically. The year before I retired was a down year, then in Oakland was a down year. So I don’t really live on numbers. I live on impact and what you’re able to do out on that field.
“So I really believe that I’m the greatest receiver ever to play the game.”
With Moss a member of the 49ers, the team Jerry Rice played most of his career with, the comment raised some eyebrows. Many consider Rice not only the greatest receiver but possibly the greatest player in NFL history.
Rice, who is in New Orleans with ESPN, said he was “very surprised” by Moss’s comments and that he would never declare himself to be the best, preferring to let his body of work speak for itself.
Boastful athletes are nothing new (Rice’s response indicates he clearly disagrees with Moss), and it’s not as if Moss was a third-stringer who played for five years.
Water cooler debate aside, Moss, who spent three-plus seasons with the Patriots, was pretty candid about several things, including his feelings about his role with the 49ers.
In 16 games, he had 28 catches for 434 yards and three TDs.
“I don’t like my role; I don’t. I like to be out there playing football,” Moss said, though the statement did not come off as a complaint, just a statement of fact. “One thing that I’ve always had to really understand was being a decoy. It was put to me, coach Dennis Green [in Minnesota] just said, ‘Even though the football is not in your hand, you’re still out there dictating how the defense is playing the offense.’
“It took me a while to really understand where he was coming from. Later on and now in my career, I understand that my presence out on the field, I don’t always have to touch the ball to be able to help the offense score touchdowns. I don’t really like that, but it’s something that I’m used to. I have to grow to understand and grow to like it.”
Though he’s had an interesting couple of years since the Patriots traded him to the Vikings in October 2010 — he was cut by Minnesota and then and finished the season with the Titans and didn’t play last season — Moss acknowledged he holds his memories of his time in New England “dear to my heart” but didn’t want to dwell too much on the past.
He did, however, cover a couple of topics related to the Patriots, including Super Bowl XLII.
“I still think about it. I can still say that I haven’t seen the game. I haven’t watched the game yet,” he said. “I would probably love to watch it. There’s just something about ’07, being undefeated going into a Super Bowl and losing it like that.
“I’ll never forget that moment because it’s not fun when you’re sweating and you have confetti dropping down and sticking to your face, knowing you’re not on the winning side of the confetti.”
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh has drawn some comparisons to Belichick for the way he interacts with the media, but Moss sees some differences behind the scenes.
“They both have their styles of coaching. I think coach Harbaugh, he loves to have fun. He has a lot of stories; some are very, very comical,” Moss said. “Others are [about] just pushing forward and keep striving. Coach Belichick is very business-oriented. He doesn’t really show a lot of emotion. He prepares guys and really doesn’t crack a smile.
“I think the comparison between the two, if I could put it on, is coach Belichick is really straightforward and coach Harbaugh sometimes gets off the road and keeps it humorous.”
Moss also acknowledged former teammate and good friend Kevin Faulk when asked about what he feels his responsibility is to younger players.
“My responsibility is to try and lead, going out there and showing them how professionals are supposed to work,’’ he said. “Early in my career, I looked at Cris Carter, Randall McDaniel, Randall Cunningham, and John Randle, just seeing how professionals are supposed to work each and every day. That’s what I thought I knew — how to work.
“But then I went up to New England and ran into Kevin Faulk. Me and Kevin have a little bit of history together because we came out the same year in high school and were on the same All-American team. I said, ‘Man, this is really how y’all work?’
“I thought I knew how to work. I was working out in the mornings doing this and that. [Faulk] took it an extra mile. He took it to the next level. What I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced and what guys like the Faulks and the John Randles and the Carters have taught me is that it’s my duty to give it back.”
When Faulk returned home after the Patriots ’lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl — a game Faulk didn’t dress for — Moss was waiting for him in his driveway to show support.
Moss hasn’t ruled out playing next season, but winning a Super Bowl on Sunday, “I think my career would be complete,” he said.