Welcome to Tuesdays with Richard on Thursdays, a weekly multimedia series featuring Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. Throughout the 2016 season, Richard will provide a unique and intimate glance at his life behind-the-scenes and on the field. This week, Richard puts a unique spin on the 5 Toughest portion of our Elite 101 series.
One thing I think people often forget about professional athletes is that, to a large extent, we’re fans, too. Not the “Can I get a picture with you?” or “Can you sign my baby?” kind of fans, but we enjoy watching the best athletes in the world compete at the highest level as much as the next person.
And we appreciate greatness when we see it, regardless of the sport.
During down time, in the locker room or on the training table, my teammates and I engage in the same sports debates as anybody else.
Better in his prime: Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson?
The Warriors, or the ’96 Bulls?
Kobe, MJ or LeBron?
(For the record, I’d put my money on Ali over anybody, the ’96 Bulls, and Kobe — but it’s close.)
It’s the hypothetical scenarios and matchups that make for the greatest debate because there are no real answers. We’ll just never know.
So when I see highlights of — or hear people arguing about — the greatest wide receivers of all time, it’s tough for me as a competitor to not sit back and think, Man, I wish I could have played against some of those guys.
So in that spirit, I started thinking about some of the great wide receivers who came a little before my time in the NFL — guys I would have loved to have had the chance to line up against and lock down.
And the first that comes to mind is a guy I actually did get the chance to play against….
I got to play against Randy during the latter part of his career, in 2012, when he was with the 49ers. But that’s not the Randy Moss I wanted to cover.
I wanted young Randy.
The one who made his name into a verb.
We yelled it all the time when we were kids and somebody made a highlight catch over a defender — especially if it was a touchdown.
“You got Mossed!”
That started pretty much right when Randy came into the league. In his early days with the Vikings, he was Mossing people left and right, like with this catch against the Packers:
Or this one-handed grab he made on Charles Woodson, a future Hall of Famer:
Those dudes got Mossed, and a catchphrase was born.
At the end of his career, when I played against him, Randy still had speed. He still had quickness. He still had hands. But he wasn’t quite the same as he had been when he was in his prime. When he came into the league, he had probably the best combination of speed, quickness and hands anybody had ever seen. And on top of that, he had the size and leaping ability — I guess you’d call it “Mossability” — to go up and get the ball, no matter where it had been thrown.
Throw in the fact that for most of his time in Minnesota he had a quarterback in Daunte Culpepper with one of the strongest arms in the league — who could air it out and really let Randy shine — and that would have made for a fun matchup for a cornerback like me.
In fact, that Vikings offense was so prolific that we don’t have to go far to find the next guy on my list.
We just need to look to the other side of the field.
Cris Carter had probably the best hands in the NFL — maybe ever. He was a true master of his craft.
He was a guy who would have been a lot of fun to cover because the margin for error would have been so small. You couldn’t even let the ball get to his hands, because if it got there, he was catching it. Every time. He was the guy making one-handed catches left and right back when it was still a rarity.
To keep the ball from getting to his hands, I would have had to reroute him. I would have had to disrupt him at the line of scrimmage and break on the ball early — maybe try to get into his head and rattle him a little bit, which would have been difficult, because he was such a competitor.
It would be even more difficult to defend Cris in today’s NFL, because back in his day, the game was more physical. Now, with the way the rules have changed, DBs aren’t allowed to disrupt receivers at the line the way they used to, so they have even more of an advantage than they had when Cris was playing.
Cris Carter is a Hall of Fame wide receiver, but it’s pretty scary to imagine what a guy like him could do in today’s game, where he would essentially be able to run free.
And in any era, as a defense, I don’t know how you could stop both Cris Carter and Randy Moss on the same offense.
But man, I would love to find out.
Strong. Fast. Athletic. A big body with great hands.
T.O. had it all.
I can’t think of many wide receivers who had all the different skills that T.O. had, plus a six-foot-three, 225-pound frame. He could beat guys in so many ways. He could use his speed to get behind the defense on go routes. He could catch a screen pass and use his speed to take it to the house. He could go over the middle because he had the size and strength to take a couple of hits, bounce right off them and keep on going.
Statistically, he’s in the top three all time in both receiving yards and touchdowns, so you know he took care of business on the field. And everything he did and said after the whistle and off the field — the celebrations, the popcorn, the press conferences — made for some pretty fun TV, too.
I think a trash-talk battle between me and T.O. would have been pretty hilarious.
Unfortunately, I think the extracurricular stuff he did rubbed some people the wrong way — particularly Hall of Fame voters. But at the end of the day, he’s an all-time great receiver who should be in the Hall of Fame, just like Cris Carter is and Randy Moss undoubtedly will be.
In fact, T.O. was such a unique talent that I think he was the first wide receiver of his kind that we had seen since a certain Hall of Famer who came before him….
Anybody with a nickname like “the Playmaker” is a guy any elite cornerback would want the chance to line up against. As corners, we treat all receivers the same regardless of talent level or résumé — that’s how you avoid letdowns. But at the end of the day, we measure ourselves by how we perform against the best receivers in the game.
Irvin’s nickname was apt. He was a big-time playmaker. He adjusted well to different types of press coverage. He was physical. He had great hands, ran clean routes and had the speed to either get behind the defense or take a short pass and turn it into a long touchdown.
And he shone brightest when it mattered the most.
During the Cowboys’ three Super Bowl runs in the ’90s, Irvin’s playoff stats were:
Receiving Yards: 688
Guys like Irvin, T.O. and Calvin Johnson are probably in a category by themselves when it comes to their combination of size, speed and physicality. I imagine that when you lined up against Michael Irvin, you knew you were in for a full day’s work — especially with all the dynamic players those Cowboys teams had around him.
He’s the Playmaker, and I’m the kind of guy who would want to see for myself what that’s all about. And just like T.O., playmakers are gonna talk a little bit. So Michael Irvin would have been a fun matchup for me.
Many people consider Jerry Rice the greatest receiver of all time, and it’s hard to argue with that. He had the speed and all the tools that a lot of the other guys on this list had, but with Jerry, his greatness was predicated mostly on his hands and his route running. He knew exactly where he wanted to go, and he was pretty much always able to get to that spot right on time because he had such a good rapport with his quarterbacks. They knew where he wanted to go, too. Jerry and the football would meet at that spot, and on his way there, Jerry would often leave defenders on the ground in his wake.
In addition to Jerry, it would have also been fun to play against Joe Montana and Steve Young running Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense. I think if I could choose two historic offenses that I would love to match our Seahawks defense up against, it would be Walsh’s 49ers and those ’90s Cowboys teams with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.
And just like Cris Carter, Jerry Rice is another guy from a different era who I think would wreak havoc on defenses in today’s NFL — he would maybe be even more dangerous today, if you can imagine that.
To cover Jerry, you’d have to press him at the line of scrimmage. They’d probably use motion and move him around to try and beat the press, and you’d have to get your hands on him somehow to disrupt his timing.
If you didn’t get your hands on him and throw his timing off, he’d get to his spot, the ball would be there on time and it would be over.
Like I said: As a cornerback, you measure yourself by how you perform against the best receivers in the game, and I’d like to think I could hold my own with Jerry and the other all-time greats on this list.
But I guess we’ll never know.