Mark Clayton’s Magic Night

When you mention receiving records in the NFL, the name that sits a top several categories is Jerry Rice. However there have been great performances and incredible stats gathered by other receivers. What gets lost are the records that were broken by others just before Rice came into the league.  One such record was set by Mark Clayton of the Miami Dolphins.

Clayton on his final touchdown romp.

Clayton on his final touchdown romp.

You need to understand the Dolphins had played in Super Bowl XVII at the end of the 1982 season. The late David Woodley struggled in the second half of that loss completing just one pass. The following draft Don Shula moved to upgrade not only his quarterback, Dan Marino in the 1st round, but began to look to upgrade one of the league’s slowest receiving corps in the draft. Clayton was selected in the 8th round from Louisville in the same ’83 draft.

Thus began the genesis to one of the NFL’s greatest offenses. Clayton began slowly as a reserve catching just 6 passes in his rookie year. He teamed with fellow reserve WR Mark Duper to form the core of what would be Shula’s new passing game. All three played with a chip on their shoulder all year long as they assaulted defenses on a week to week basis. While Marino shattered the all time record for touchdowns thrown in a season, he was within 58 yards of Dan Fouts yardage record going into the finale vs. Dallas.

Overshadowed by the records Marino was eclipsing, Clayton entered the finale just 2 touchdowns shy of an even longer standing record. Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch’s record of 17 TD receptions which had stood since 1951. He would have to do it against a Dallas Cowboy team that needed a win to make the playoffs.

Clayton had scorched the NFL’s 7th rated pass defense for 4 recpts 150 yards and 3 touchdowns. His two 4th quarter touchdowns allowed him to set the new record at 18 TD receptions. . His record stood until Rice broke it in 1987. Then Randy Moss pushed the record to 23 in 2007. In fact only Sterling Sharpe in 1994, Rice, and Moss are the only receivers to amass 18 touchdowns in a single season. Just 4 receiving seasons in 65 years.

Clayton, Duper, Marino

Clayton, Duper, Marino

Clayton’s 1984 season of 78 rec. 1389 yds 18 TDs was among the greatest in history. He had a good career with 5 Pro Bowl seasons, 5 – 1,000 yard seasons while finishing with 582 catches 8,974 yards and 84 touchdowns. He did leave his imprint on the game and his signature moment was his record breaking Monday Night in 1984.

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Cris Carter Belongs In The Hall of Fame

Cris Carter graces the cover of The Sporting News

Has there been a better set of hands in the history of Pro Football?? How many ridiculous one handed catches did Cris Carter make during his great career with the Philadelphia Eagles and mainly with the Minnesota Vikings?? At first glance, the numbers stand out with 1,101 receptions for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns. Good for 2nd most in NFL history for receptions and receiving touchdowns at the time of his retirement. One of the greatest attributes is that he honed his skill amidst a myriad of pedestrian NFL quarterbacks.

Amazingly he came within inches of washing out after a few seasons in Philadelphia. After leaving THE Ohio State University, he was drafted by Buddy Ryan and the Eagles in 1987. In his three years there he played well but was undisciplined off the field. He was a young player who enjoyed the perks of stardom and indulged off the field in alcohol and partying and was wasting his talent away. He helped the Eagles and a growing Randall Cunningham to a 12-4 record and a 1988 NFC East Championship where he caught 39 receptions for 761 yards and 6 TDs for the season.

However it was the 1989 season where he didn’t show signs of maturity off the field. Despite the fact that he caught 45 passes, his play had regressed to where his effectiveness was relegated to catching passes in the redzone. He caught 11TDs but only gained 605 yards. Head Coach Buddy Ryan had lost faith in his receiver growing as a player and released him and drafted less talented receivers Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams in the 1990 draft. When asked why he released Carter he scoffed “All he does is catch touchdowns.” a line mimicked by Chris Berman and Tom Jackson on ESPN highlight shows for years to come.

The Vikings claimed Carter from the waiver wire for $100!! They nabbed a Hall of Fame wide receiver for half the price of a smartphone. Think about that for a second. With the humbling experience he rededicated himself and gave up his tempestuous ways and became a polished receiver with the Vikings. So polished that he thrived with moderate quarterbacking in Minnesota in the ensuing years. Do you realize that in just 12 years for the Norsemen he caught 1,004 receptions for 12,383 yards and 110 touchdowns?? Do you also realize he did most of this while catching passes from the likes of a moderately successful Sean Salisbury, a decade away from developing Rich Gannon, an eroding (with his fourth team) Jim McMahon, a developing Brad Johnson, and an on the downside late 30’s Warren Moon?? Now why didn’t we place an out of retirement Comeback Player of the Year Randall Cunningham with this group?? Because his three best years came before the famous 1998 Vikings everyone remembers with Cunningham & Randy Moss.

Carter making one of his patented sideline catches against the Rams in the ’99 playoffs.

With the aforementioned quarterbacks in tow, Carter, along with Jerry Rice became the first receivers not named Sterling Sharpe to have 100 receptions in back to back seasons for 1994 & 1995. Carter caught 122 in ’94 then 122 in ’95 as compared to Rice’s 112 and 122 respectively. It was 1994-1996 where Carter did his best work. In 1994 his stat-line was 122 rec. for 1,256 yards and 7 TDs. He followed that up with 122 receptions for 1,371 yards and a career high 17 touchdowns in 1995. Lets compare these numbers with Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and should be Hall of Famer Sterling Sharpe over their best 3 year periods. Where Sharpe’s numbers are 1992-1994, Rice and Carter’s are both from 1994-1996.

  • Cris Carter (1994-1996) 340 receptions, 3,790 yards & 34TDs
  • Jerry Rice (1994-1996) 342 receptions, 4,601 yards & 36TDs
  • Sterling Sharpe (1992-1994) 314 receptions, 3,854yards & 42 TDs

See?? You forgot how great he was. The difference between the three is Carter was not catching passes from a Hall of Fame quarterback in his prime. Carter was in the midst of writing his Hall of Fame credentials with 8 straight 1,000 yard seasons and 5 straight with 10 or more touchdowns. Where Sterling Sharpe was a big receiver who muscled smaller defensive backs, Carter got by on guile. He wasn’t a deep threat, he caught everything thrown his way with many one handed circus catches and was a sideline technician. He always got his feet in and could perform in a phone booth.

What’s forgotten is how he stepped in and mentored a young Randy Moss for Coach Denny Green before the 1998 season. That season the Minnesota Vikings became the highest scoring team in league history with 556 points besting the ’83 Redskins with 541. In that year where he acquiesced a ton of catches for the betterment of a 15-1 team that should have won the Super Bowl. Carter still went on to catch 78 receptions for 1,011 yards and 12 TDs. At the same time Randy Moss was in the midst of catching 69 rec. for 1,313 yds and 17TDs. The Vikings made the NFC Championship game twice in 1998 and 2000 yet fell short of winning it all.

Cris Carter finished his career in 2001, as one of the most respected players in the NFL and in 2000 won the NFL’s Man of the Year Award. He has gone on to speak at the Rookie Symposium every year to keep rookies from falling into the pits that can derail a young man’s career. His leadership was one he grew into and now works for ESPN covering the game he played so well for so long. When you think of a Hall of Famer, you think about an ambassador of the game along with one who was among the best to ever play. Isn’t this what Cris Carter is/ was?? One who made the game great while he played and was a mentor to players who play the game today.  If that isn’t the mettle of what a Hall of Famer is, I don’t know what one looks like.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you “From THE Ohio St University” Cris Carter!

Randy Moss Belongs In The Hall of Fame

Randy Moss after a “lambeau leap” into the Metrodome Stands

With the advent of the bigger, stronger athlete on the defensive side of the ball starting in the mid 1980s, one of the plays that seemed to fade in the NFL was the bomb. As more teams mimicked the West Coast (hate that term) offense, quarterbacks were being taught to be more docile in their decisions on where to throw the ball. Gone was the daring of Darryle Lamonica, Dan Marino, Dan Fouts, Terry Bradshaw, and Kenny Stabler to throw the ball deep and give your receiver a fighting chance to catch a bomb. Teams were teaching quarterbacks to throw where the defense wasn’t and not take chances. Enter Randy Moss

Absolutely one of the most electrifying players ever when you think of explosive wide receivers, burst onto the scene after a 1997 collegiate season in which he should have won the Heisman Trophy. At 6’4 210lbs, Moss ran a sub 4.3 40yard dash and by some accounts ran a 4.2 with great leaping ability. As a junior at Marshall, he had 96 receptions for 1,820 yards and 26 touchdowns in a season so great, it could only be rivaled by Barry Sanders 1988 Heisman campaign.

Even though it was his second season with huge numbers, it was his checkered past that kept him from getting Heisman votes and Charles Woodson, became the first defensive player ever to win the coveted collegiate award. It was this reluctant acceptance of him that fueled him as a player and brought out some of his broodish behavior. Yet going into the 1998 draft, he certainly would be taken early, on the fact that he was tremendously talented.

Although teams had told him that they were interested, he slipped in the draft all the way to Minnesota where Head Coach Dennis Green had Cris Carter on board to mentor their prized #1 pick.  Offensive Co-ordinator Brian Billick realized that at 6’4, Randy had the speed to run by most NFL cornerbacks and at the same time was normally 5-6 inches taller also. Why not throw it deep to him?? He epitomized the old John Madden axiom of “when he’s even, he’s leavin’.” Which meant that once a wide receiver reduced the cushion between he and a covering defensive back to the point they were side by side, the receiver would run by the defender giving him a scoring advantage.

Daring returned to the NFL and in Dennis Green’s words Moss “reinvented the bomb in the National Football League” as described in the NFL Films production “Missing Rings”. Moss electrified as he made good on his promise to “wreck the whole league.”  He gathered in 69 receptions for 1,313 yards and an NFL rookie record 17TDs. Never had a rookie had that type of impact. He was the impetus for turning a good Viking offense into a great one. They went on to become the highest scoring team in league history to that point with 556 yards. Randall Cunningham won the Miller Lite NFL Player of the Year Award and Bert Bell Award winner for “Chuck it up there Dawg”,  the matra spoken by Randy Moss which meant throw it up there and give him the chance to make a play.

Randy Moss hauls in his record breaking 23rd TD pass in the 4th quarter against the Giants

Yet we dont’ have time to go over all his career moments for so many of us already know them. His exploits on the football field are of legendary status. After being exiled in Oakland for several years, teams crept back up in their coverage with all these short throws.  Bill Belichick resurrected his career teaming him with Tom Brady and the bomb was alive and well again in the NFL. Randy Moss again became the scourge of the league hauling in 98 passes for 1,493 yards and an NFL record 23 receiving touchdowns, which broke the old mark of 22 set by Jerry Rice. Tom Brady (NFL MVP) went on to throw for 50TDs to set the all time mark while the Patriots broke the record of the ’98 Vikings for most points ever with 589 to 556. Where the ’98Vikings went 15-1, the ’07 Patriots went 16-0.

Now it’s at this point that Moss detractors leap on the bandwagon. “Oh his team didn’t win a ring” and there is something that can be said for that, as short sighted as it may be. In the 1998 NFC Championship, he helped the Vikings to a 20-7 lead. Well before Gary Anderson’s missed FG with 3:00 left gave the Falcons hope. Had he made it, the Vikings are up 10 points and headed to Super Bowl XXXIII. As a result a great team went unfulfilled.

The same can be said for 2007 when the undefeated Patriots were held down in Super Bowl XLII, yet it was Randy Moss who scored the game winner with a little over 2:00 to go in the game at 14-10. Well, they thought was the game winner until the frantic final drive of the Giants. Randy Moss didn’t drop the interception that would have sealed the game, that was Asante Samuel. He didn’t let David Tyree catch the ball, Rodney Harrison did. He didn’t get burned on a post corner fade route into the back corner for the real winning score, that was Ellis Hobbs. They lost 17-14. Yet some folks want to point to his not winning a ring as his not being worthy of the Hall.

Lets face facts, with 954 receptions 14,858 yards for 153 TDs, these are worthy numbers on their own. Its for those that can’t separate personal feeling from assessment that cant see past their blind spot. Many cite his attitude and his “I play when I want” mantra as to why they feel his candidacy is invalid.  How can he not make the Hall of Fame?? Because of a few down years in Oakland?? He wouldn’t give former Head Coach Mike Tice his own vote of confidence?? Or was it the mock moon that Joe Buck, who was announcing the 2004 Minnesota v Green Bay Wildcard Game, voiced complete outrage to set another wave of bad publicity to descend on Moss.

First off Joe Buck, just announce the game, no one gives a rat’s ass what you think?? The next day other players up to and including Coach Tony Dungy came to Moss’ defense, explaining that he was mocking a ritual the Packer fans have in really mooning the other team as they approach the stadium. Sure there were a few times in his career he didn’t help himself with his antics yet the media painted him in a very terrible way. The truth is Randy Moss understood the reluctant acceptance of him and in interviews didn’t always channel it in a politically correct way… but on the field??

Aside from Barry Sanders, he was the one player defenses feared. You could see it in the demeanor of rival cornerbacks that knew he would get deep on them at least twice in that ball game. On all the offenses he ever played on, his deep threat capabilities backed off safeties which allowed teammates to flourish underneath. This is how and where a Wes Welker got his sea legs with a Tom Brady in 2007… This is how a Duante Culpepper thew for 4,717 yards and 39TDs with only 13 int. in 2004, Randy’s last year in Minnesota, then returned to throw 6TDs to 12 int in 2005. His career decline started the second Moss left town after shattering team records the year before.

Moss pulling away from the Saints in a 2000 NFC Playoff game

Randy Moss’ legacy? The greatest deep threat the NFL has ever seen! He is in league with the Lance Alworths, the Cliff Branchs, the Don Hutsons. Yet he was even bigger and faster than those Hall of Fame talents. For a career he averaged 73 rec. 1,142 yards and 11TDs for his 13 year career. Those numbers would get another player to the pro bowl. Yet he only made the Pro Bowl 7 times and couldn’t escape the negative stint the media portrayed him as until his play forced them to say something great. That is what happened during the 2007 season.

What fuels the fire for a player to be great is to overcome slights, even if they’re perceived slights, to force colleagues or officials  to recognize you. As it is with many minorities it’s hard to overcome a negative stigma once its placed upon you. The media never let him run away from his demons as easily as he could defenses. Even when all was said and done in New England…he towed the company line. Accepted his trade to Minnesota and was still lambasted for his praising Bill Belichick as a coach.

Well The Chancellor of Football likes to think of Randy Moss and remember the 10, 1,000 yard seasons. The nine seasons with double digit touchdowns with 3 of which 17 TDs or more including a record 23 in 2007.  The numerous records achieved in both a Viking uniform and a Patriots uniform. To remember that he is the only link to the two highest scoring teams in NFL history. The 556 points scored by the ’98 Vikings only to be surpassed by the 589 scored by the ’07 Patriots. Thats too much talent to go overlooked….way too much

For induction to the Hall of Fame, I present to you Randy Moss