NEW ORLEANS — Jerry Rice delivered a pointed response to Randy Moss on Thursday, making it clear that the current 49ers receiver lacks the statistics, the Super Bowl rings and — above all — the work ethic to lay claim as the best of all time.
"I think Randy Moss was the most talented,'' Rice said. "But along with being the most talented, you have to work hard — every season, every play.
"I was not the most talented, but I was going to outwork you. He probably could have been the greatest player ever to play the game."
Rice, now an analyst for ESPN, held court with a handful of reporters for nearly an hour. Speaking at the media headquarters in New Orleans, the site of Sunday's Super Bowl between the 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, he was introduced as "arguably the greatest receiver of all-time."
"Second best,'' the Hall of Famer quipped.
It was clear that Moss' boast this week that he was the best receiver ever was fresh in Rice's mind. He joked about it several times, even when he wasn't asked, sneaking in references here and there. But he also turned serious at one point.
"I never took any plays off and I always gave 100 percent,'' Rice, 50, said.
Moss has been accused over the years of giving half-hearted efforts, once saying: "I play when I want to play."
Rice, in contrast, pointed to a career remembered for his work ethic and dedication to training.
"(Moss) is 6-5. Could run a 4.3. Could out-jump you. Struck fear in the heart of the defense,'' Rice said. "But you have to have it here, in your heart."
Rice, who won three Super Bowls titles, wore the ring from he earned in Super Bowl XXIV in New Orleans. While hammering home another point about Moss, he held up his jewelry for reporters.
"This is how I impacted the game: with Super Bowl rings,'' he said. "I'm hoping he can go out there and win his first one and be a big factor."
Rice played from 1985-2004 and still owns every major NFL receiving record, including the marks for catches, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and total receptions.
"You put my numbers up against Randy's and my body of work compared to his, and there's a big difference,'' Rice said. "I know he says you can't bring the stats into the scenario, but I think that's part of being the best receiver to play the game."
For the record, Rice sees the 49ers adding another ring to their collection this Sunday. He predicts a 24-17 victory.