Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The HoG25: The 25 Best Receivers of the Past 25 Years (Part Two)

There's been a theme with this feature we've dubbed The HoG25: arguing. We may hit on it a touch in each introductory paragraph, but it's necessitated. We've bickered over categories, how we'll select them, the selections we've made, how we'll rank the selections, and that's only scratching the surface. It's no skin off our backs, though. We're here to deliver what you want to read. One of these days, we'll get around to that, too. Promise. So far in this series we've covered NFL quarterbacks, American cinema, baseball hitters, readin' books, starting pitchers, television shows, and as recent as yesterday, we brought you part one of the best receivers. We know you've been waiting for the Top 10, so get past the jump and devour.

10: Michael Irvin

Old No. 7:
As much as everyone despises the Cowboys, particularly the How-Bout-Them versions that won three titles under Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer, you've got to give it up for The Playmaker. Rarely in the anals of the sport has a receiver been as great as Irvin when the games meant the most.

In three Super Bowls, Irvin grabbed 16 catches for 256 yards and a pair of scores. Sure, most of those were against the Bills, but still. He Made Plays. If memory serves, he did the same in numerous playoff games, but the Internets like to hide easy access to playoff receiving statistics for some reason. Online, I can find everything about every baseball game ever played, right down to what inning Babe Ruth took his bowel movement. But I can't get a box score for the 1993 NFC Championship without jumping through nine hoops. This is bullshit.

Also, Irvin was a big fan of the cocaine and the prostitutes. And fur coats. Good for him, I like a world where big-time Dallas Cowboy celebrities can get really high and really laid whenever they feel like it. And stay warm. It just feels right, you know?

9: Rod Smith

I remember two things in particular about the beginning of Rod Smith's career: the first catch, for a touchdown and the win against the Washington Redskins, and something that an old Vance Johnson said back in Smith's rookie season. I don't recall the exact quote, but it was along the lines of, hey, this team's going to be all right at the receiver position, this undrafted kid can really play. I dunno why that stuck with me, but it did--maybe we all should spend more time listening to Vance Johnson, because that motorcycle crashin' deadbeat knew of what he spoke.

Smith is easily the best receiver in Denver Bronco history. no small feat when you consider the Lionel Taylor, the Haven Moses, the Ed McCaffrey, the Steve Watson and, yes, the Vance Johnson. He owns the team records for career touchdowns, receptions and yards gained. He's the all-time NFL leader for yardage by an undrafted player. He has two Super Bowl titles and could easily have been voted MVP of the second, were it not for the inevitability of Elway. He even returned punts when called upon to do so in emergencies, and scored a few touchdowns in the process. He was the best blocking wideout in the game for most of his career, and I'll stand on Hines Ward's coffee table in my Chuck Taylors and say that.

But Smith's importance to this franchise is not so easily quantifiable. It's past on-field exploits; he's one of the lifers. He's made his home here, he stays involved with the team. He defends them to the dipshit Jamie Dukes of the world in typically hilarious, gravel-throated fashion. He's also reportedly back to mentoring Brandon Marshall, and finally listening to Rod would be the best decision that kid ever made. I can say without reservation that, after a lifetime of Bronco fandom, Rod Smith is my all-time favorite player. Beyond Gradishar, beyond Meck', beyond Dennis Smith, beyond even #7.

The fact that Rod Smith hasn't ever left the Broncos, even in retirement, gives me the kind of warm fuzzy that little kids get from sleeping in the back seat on long drives. As long as he's around, everything's going to be OK.

8: Isaac Bruce

Old No. 7:
He's a sneaky one, this Bruce. Bill Parcells would call him a "Jap" player, a surprise thing, no offense to anyone. None taken, Bill! Isaac Bruce tends to creep up on you like that, lie in the weeds, and then BAM! He's putting up massive numbers and headed to Canton.

But wait a minute, you say. Isaac Bruce, in the Hall of Fame? That's crazy talk. Sure, he's a nice player, but can you really put him up there with the legends?

Uh, yes you can, but I understand the skepticism. Like I said before, we live in crazy times. The explosion in passing offense in the last 15 years has shredded the record books and made receiving totals from any time before the Clinton Administration look puny. Hines Ward and Muhsin Muhammad, two guys that did not make our list of 25, have stats that dwarf those of dozens of Hall of Fame players.

Bruce, though, stands out. He's been at it forever -- he went to school at Memphis State and was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. Neither one of those institutions exist anymore. Though 16 NFL seasons he's amassed over 15,000 yards (one of only five to do so), 80 TDs and 1,000 catches (one of only two to do so). He's had eight 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

But still, you say, Torry Holt and Marshall Faulk were the straws that stirred the drink on those Rams teams known as The Greatest Show On Turf. How can a third-fiddle go down as one of the greats? It's a valid point, but let's look at Holt in particular. He was the Rams' No. 1 receiving option almost immediately after being taken in the first round in 1999. And his numbers are indeed spectacular. But Holt has still not caught up to what Bruce has done, and Holt is finished. Seriously, have you seen him lately? Cooked. Meanwhile, Bruce keeps chugging along, five years his senior, with a better body of work. Sometimes, these things just sneak up on you.

6: Steve Largent

The 1975 Houston Oilers went 10-4, which was probably a bummer for Bum Phillips: it only got his club a third-place finish. In the 1976 draft, the Oilers took a kid named Steve Largent out of Tulsa with the 117th overall pick in the draft. After four preseason games, the brass was ready to cut the wide out, but instead traded him to the expansion Seattle Seahawks (Editor’s Note: Old school AFC West! Weird.) The Oilers went 5-9 that season, while the Seahawks won a mere two contests. Largent, however, dropped 705 receiving yards as a rookie, en route to seven Pro Bowls, eight 1000-yard seasons, 100 career touchdowns, and over 13-grand in career yardage.

He makes the Top 20 in career receptions, yardage, and touchdowns, and for 14 years, he gave Seahawks fans something to cheer about, which, by my tally, is much better than Jerramy Stevens. No, I mean Curt Warner was fine and dandy. Dave Krieg was clearly HoG25-worthy, but it was Largent that made that offense dangerous. In fact, at the time of his retirement, he was number one in each of the aforementioned categories, which was 1989, before the kids put on their Zips and started mainlining their Wheaties.

Steve Largent was a stud for an often surprisingly troublesome squad to face, so much so that the organization found his performance worthy enough to name an award after him: The Steve Largent Award. Fun facts include: Steve Largent was the first recipient of the Steve Largent Award; Steve Largent’s number 80 is retired in both Seattle and at Tulsa, save for a quick run of Jerry Riceness in Seattle, when Largent allowed it to become unretired so’s that Jerry could wear it; and after football, Largent became a Congressman, and once ran for governor. Steve Largent: Hall of Famer, politician, humanitarian, and qualified to win the Steve Largent Award.

5: Marvin Harrison

Old No. 7:
As Exhibit A for my case on why judging athletes based on perceived character is folly, I offer you Marvin Harrison. Don't get me wrong, I too would rather root for good guys than creeps. I'd rather have upstanding citizens on my team's roster than thugs. And it makes it much easier to root against your rivals if their players are slimebags. I play the character game just like everybody else, but I try to spend the bare minimum of time on my moral high horse, because of guys like Murderous Marvin.

Admit it, you loved Marvin. Whether or not you liked the Colts (due to the fact that they knocked the Broncos out of the playoffs something like thirteen years staright, I did not), you had all the respect in the world for Marvin Harrison. At a position full of selfish showboats, Marvin was for a time the greatest receiver on the planet and did nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to draw further attention to himself. He worked his ass off, dominated opposing secondaries every single week, and after every play, every score, he merely flipped the ball to an official and went back to work. No gaudy celebrations, not for huge touchdowns or routine first downs or for any play. He did his job with incomparable skill and zero lip.

Harrison's 1102 receptions are second only to the total posted by Jerry Rice. His 128 receiving TDs are fifth all-time, and his 14,580 yards rank fourth. Had he played this season, it's likely that he could have captured the 2-spot in yards as well, but Marvin is done with football. Although he's reportedly healthy and could almost certainly contribute to a team, Marvin can't get a job. Because Marvin Harrison almost certainly shot a man in cold blood last April 29.

None of us knew anything about what Marvin did in the offseason, because he didn't give interviews or do commercials or get into trouble or have his own reality show. Marvin owned a bar in his hometown of Philly, and it seems that outside of playing a legendary level of professional football all Marvin wanted to do was run his bar. And last April 29, something happened that resulted in a dude getting gunned down with Marvin Harrison's pistol. This is a rough part of town, a neighborhood where witnesses to these sorts of things aren't very forthcoming with cops. But it looks like Marvin, instead of being the kind of guy we thought he was, is actually the kind of guy who'll smoke a fool that crosses him.

And that's why Marvin Harrison is blackballed from the league he spent 13 years in, doing things only a handful of men ever have. Goes to show you that we don't know these guys, even if we think we do.

4: Terrell Owens

Old No. 7:
I'm going to keep this short and sweet, because you don't want to read any more about this douchebag, and I don't want to write any more about him.

Terrell Owens has scored 142 touchdowns in his career. In the entire time that NFL football has occurred on gridirons across America, only three men have visited the end zone more: Jerry Rice (208), Emmitt Smith (175) and Marcus Allen (145). As unlikeable as TO is, as many teams as he's killed, as many QBs as he's thrown under the proverbial bus, you can't take that number away. The point of playing offense is to get the ball downfield and score, and TO has done that with more regularity than just about anyone ever.

Luckily, he's just about at the end of the line and soon enough he will go away. If you drafted TO on your fantasy team allow me to offer my HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. And with that, I'm going to hit the showers and wash the TO filth from my body and mind.

3: Cris Carter

I used to hate Cris Carter. I used to think the Minnesota Vikings were a sorry excuse for a football team that had a pair of ass clowns named Randy Moss and Cris Carter that would catch footballs thrown from Rich Gannon, Wade Wilson, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, and Daunte Culpepper, and Randall Cunningham, and Sean flippin’ Salisbury. Oh, and Jim McMahon. I know they had some good teams in the ‘90s, and even near the turn of the century, but they always seemed like a worthless bunch of hooligans that could never quite compile a complete roster.

It was only when Carter’s career was dwindling down did I begin to develop an appreciation for what the man had accomplished all those many years up in the Hugh. The man played a really impressive career for an off-and-on decent club. He makes the top 10 in all of the important lists, and he did go to eight straight Pro Bowls. Ultimately, you kind of have to feel sorry for the guy in the same way one might sympathize with Marty Schottenheimer. That is, he has a mountain of impressive stats, kept his nose clean, and now does a pretty good job behind a desk. But, in 14 playoff games, a 4-10 record can’t be fun.

I can only imagine what it’s like to string together such a remarkable career and never taste true post-season success. Carter started off with six straight playoff losses, then lost a playoff game after earning a previous-win round in the four other seasons in which his team qualified. I guess the jewelry just wasn’t meant to come Carter’s way, but his feats as a pass catcher still land him on this list in convincing fashion. Great hands. Great numbers. And great eyebrows.

2: Randy Moss

Randy Moss is probably the most physically gifted professional football player of my lifetime.

The phrase "he's an athletic freak" has been overused to the point of meaninglessness, having been applied in recent years to third-tier nobodies like Adam Archuleta and Kevin Kasper, but there's simply no other appropriate descriptor for Randay. When he came out of college he was clocking 40 times in the 4.3/4.4 range. At 6'4". He could outleap literally every defender in the league. His body control, at a full sprint, was (and is, still) simply boggling. No one in my memory -- or possibly in league history -- has been better at adjusting to the ball in the air. He had the agility of a Santana Moss and the size of Herman Moore. Defensive coordinators didn't know how to deal with him because they had simply never seen anyone like him before, ever. He might as well have been a creature from another dimension, just without the thousand eyes and

Sure, he's had an attitude. Sure, he only plays when he wants to play -- ask the trogs out in Oakland, but don't go heavy on the syllables. Sure, he ran into a meter maid with his car and dragged her down a street. No one said he's the guy you want watching your house while you're out of town. he's the guy you want as your QB's outlet, the game-changer capable, at any moment, of completely re-arranging the scheme of an opposing defense.

Plus, he's a big bass fisherman. And he admits to toking up, even if it's only once in a blue moon. Guy's solid in my book.

Bankmeister: And if you didn't see this one coming...

1: Jerry Rice

If you’re a sports fan and you’ve been following this series, you know that debates about sports are oftentimes arguable. As we’ve said in our intros in earlier installments of this little project, the Iron Triangle of the House of Georges likes to argue. A lot. By the time this feature is finally put to bed, we’ll have examined 300 items. We’ll have made fun of one another for selecting certain items. We’ll have scoffed at statements made in defense of our selections, and we’ll have bickered about the orders in which we’ve ranked these things. It’s possible that all of that is true for 299 items. Gerardo Arroz is the lone exception.

If one can make a convincing stance for why Mr. Rice is not the greatest receiver of all time, this is your chance for doing so. Let’s run through the numbers real quick, though: One thousand five hundred forty-nine catches (1st); 22,895 receiving yards (1st); and 197 receiving touchdowns (1st). Those are all career numbers of course, and there are a few single-season ones to throw out as well, i.e. his 1995 campaign wherein he caught for 1,848 yards. There’s also the 13 Pro Bowls, the 33 catches/589 yards/eight touchdowns/one MVP that he managed in four Super Bowls. So go ahead: argue.

It has become somewhat widely accepted that next year, when Rice becomes eligible for enshrinement in Canton, his induction into the Hall of Fame will be certain, carrying zero speculation. He was inducted to the NCAA Football Hall of Fame in 2006, but his professional accomplishments and records are so impressive, that I will even link to a Wikipedia page for emphasis.

Don't know about y'all, but we're exhausted. Hope you enjoyed.


old no. 7 said...

Little-known fact about Steve Largent & the Seahawks: they actually played their inaugural year in the NFC West, with Tampa as a member of the AFC West. The following season they switched. Seattle came back to the NFC West in, I think, 2002.

Well-known fact about Steve Largent: Bible-thumping fundamentalist loon.

Hercules Rockefeller said...

You guys are killing these. Seriously nice work!