NEW ORLEANS – Randy Moss tops the San Francisco 49ers in a very important statistic, post-practice speeches.
As the 49ers prepare for Super Bowl XLVII this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, the 14-year veteran opened up about his experiences this season in San Francisco.
So did his teammates, who've enjoyed getting to know the future Hall of Fame wide receiver and his unmatched work ethic behind the scenes.
"I didn't know him before he got here," admitted 49ers Pro Bowl safety Donte Whitner during Super Bowl media day. "I really didn't know what to think about him. I knew that he could run past you. I knew he could catch a lot of touchdowns, but I really didn't know anything about him. I really didn't think anything about him as a person."
But after going through 16 regular season battles and two postseason victories with the well-known wide receiver, Whitner's opinion on Moss is quite strong.
"Now, he's one of the best teammates I've ever been with," said Whitner, who used to match up against Moss when both played in the AFC East. "He's an extremely funny guy, you can ask anybody on this team, Randy makes everybody laugh, gives everybody advice, as far as personal and as far as football-wise."
Moss' impact has been felt on the field (28 receptions, 434 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season, plus five catches for 71 yards in the posteason) and it's been felt on the practice fields where Moss leads the team in post-practice talks. Justin Smith is a close second.
"Hopefully he comes back to the 49ers," Whitner continued. "He's been everything we expected him to be. He's been in practice each and every day and you know coach really likes him when he asks him to give so many speeches to the team after practice. He is a team leader. He's the funniest guy on our team, hands-down funniest. Most genuine and the realest person. He's going to tell you how it is 100 percent and not hold back."
Moss takes pride in scoring touchdowns; he also understands his role in mentoring teammates.
"My responsibility is to try and lead, going out there and showing them how professionals are supposed to work," Moss said in his longest media session with the 49ers. "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."
After Moss signed a one-year contract with the 49ers, the wide receiver with a laundry list of impressive on-field performances, including a league-record of 23 touchdowns in 2007 for the New England Patriots, didn't want to overstep his boundaries on a team filled with Pro Bowl-caliber players.
"I've never been vocal," the 35-year old wideout said. "I think it's something you develop over time, especially when your peers look to you for vocal leadership. If there is anything that I've been able to give back to the younger guys, it's my experience. That's something I've taken to heart because by looking at the younger guys and how they respond and how they look at me, it's something I never would have imagined. I never wanted to be a vocal guy and lead by my mouth. I always wanted to lead by example and that's by making plays on the field."
Third-year wideout Kyle Williams said he's learned "everything" from Moss this season.
"It's tough to point out one thing because he's the man, that's Randy Moss," said Williams, a wide receiver placed on Injured Reserve after an injury suffered in New Orleans back in Week 12.
"He's a certified Hall of Famer, first-ballot," Williams continued. "You can argue that he's the best to ever play the position. Watching him every single day, he's one of those guys that leads by example, he doesn't have to say much. He leads by example by the way he works. You don't play for 15 years without doing a couple of things right, so literally everything."
Moss' impact on teammates is one thing, but the way he revolutionized the wide receiver position is something he's not bashful about. Once Moss entered the league with 17 touchdown receptions back in 1998 with the Minnesota Vikings, opposing defenses immediately changed up coverage to push back safeties for deep help over the top.
Call it the "Moss Effect."
Moss wasn't shy about discussing his impact on professional football.
"I think now that I'm older, I do think I'm the greatest receiver to ever do it," said Moss, who ranks third all-time in NFL history with 15,292 receiving yards behind two former 49ers, Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens.
"I don't really live on numbers," Moss went on to say. "I really live on impact and what you're able to do out on that field. I really do think that I'm the greatest receiver to ever play this game."
Moss' presence has been huge to Michael Crabtree's development. The fourth-year wideout became San Francisco's first, 1,000-yard receiver since 2003. He also enjoyed single coverage throughout the year with Moss still garnering attention from defensive backs.
"I was just honored to be next to him; a guy like that, legendary like that, someone you looked up to when you were younger," Crabtree said. "It's a great feeling."
Crabtree especially enjoys seeing Moss' highlight plays in person, practice or in games.
"When you catch a ball over somebody, it's always 'Mossed,'" Crabtree said with a smile. "It's funny when you're at practice and you catch the ball on somebody and they say, 'Hey, you got Mossed.' And then Moss is sitting right next to you."
Moss doesn't mind the verb associated with his last name. If anything, it ads to his mystique.
"I hear it still to this day and it's really hard to believe that it's me that they're talking about," Moss said. "I try to stay focused and try to stay humble and try to stay grounded, but if you go out to different parts of the country, and sometimes different parts of the world, and you hear that phrase, that little slogan, it's hard to believe. I'm overwhelmed by it. I never thought in a million years that something like this would happen. I've always just wanted to play football and everything else comes secondary. For that slogan, 'You've been Mossed', is something I definitely hang my hat on."
Sayings aside, leaders on the defensive side of the ball see the positive impact Moss has had on the 49ers this season, Crabtree included.
"He's been a great influence for guys, especially younger guys in the receiver room," Smith, the 49ers defensive co-captain detailed. "He works. When you get there in the morning, he's already on the field running. He swims all the time, lifting weights, how he prepares, how he eats, how you stay in the league this long at this position, I think it's been cool to see how he goes about his business."
Does Smith want Moss back in a 49ers uniform next season?
"It would be great to have him back," the 49ers defensive tackle said. "He's been nothing but great for us. We'd love to have him back."
For his part, Moss said he does want to return for another year. The veteran doesn't want to be away from the game like he was in 2011.
Moss missed the locker room camaraderie, meetings, gameday – all that comes with playing professional football.
"That's the main thing, just going out here to compete, being around my teammates and going out here and showing out for the fans on Sunday," Moss said.
When he wasn't playing, Moss watched football. It also made him appreciate what the NFL stands for. After a talk with his daughter Sydney, who was set to enroll at the University of Florida to play basketball, Moss was moved enough by the conversation that he'd return to the game for the 2012 season.
"Dad, if you come back to the game, I want you to win a Super Bowl because I'm going to the University of Florida to win a National Championship (in basketball)," said Moss, summing up the conversation. "That really made me smile because I've never heard my daughter talk like that. For her to be able to tell me that face-to-face, well I'm on the verge of trying to win my first Super Bowl. Hopefully, we'll get it and the next thing is to see her get her NCAA Championship."
The 49ers wideout also said he'd love to one day tailgate at a professional game.
But first things first, Moss wants to finish out a remarkable season with his first Super Bowl win.
"I've always told myself that I wanted to win a championship on this level," Moss said. "Having a Super Bowl ring, I think my career would be complete."