With every catch, with every route, there always has been a different way to describe Randy Moss.
He was a diva. He was a distraction. He was a talent. He was arrogant. He was a star. He was self-absorbed. He was a great receiver. He was a bad guy. He was misunderstood.
Now there is a new word for Moss.
And who saw that coming?
He is near the time to say goodbye, and Moss has learned to say hello. He is a teammate. He is the savvy, old veteran. He is a complementary player, and most of the time, he stands on the sideline and gives compliments.
After years of catching it, it seems that Moss finally gets it.
Flash back a few days ago, when Moss stood in front of his 49ers teammates and talked about the Super Bowl that got away. That loss, to the Giants after the 2007 season, still rankles him.
Focus, he told teammates. Don't let the opportunity get away.
Would the old Randy Moss have taken the time to speak up? Remember, he was the guy who once admitted he took plays off, the guy who seemed disinterested in Oakland and distracted in Tennessee, the guy who once told a team caterer that he wouldn't feed his food to his dog.
It is amazing what the pursuit of a Super Bowl ring can do to a man's maturity, isn't it? It can humble him, and it can ground him. Remember how Chad Johnson played nice with the Patriots last year?
Moss, who turns 36 next month, is no longer the playmaker he once was, and his team no longer believes he is the quickest way to the end zone. But there is still a bit of life in those legs, and there is still a chance that Moss will finish his career to the sounds of cheers.
He sat at a small table Wednesday, the media huddled around him, and his West Virginia twang was loud as he spoke. Yes, he said, a Super Bowl would complete his career. Yes, he said, he might come back and try again next year. Yes, he said, he was planning to write a book so readers could get to know him.
Also, he repeated this.
In the mind of Randy Moss, the finest receiver in NFL history is … Randy Moss. After all, humility never could cover Moss.
"You make your own judgment," Moss said. "I know what I think. When it comes to going out there, making plays and helping the team do the things they are able to do to win the game — I think I am the best receiver ever. Point blank. Next question."
At this point, it seemed only proper to drop the name of another 49ers receiver into the conversation. Remember Jerry Rice? Rice has three Super Bowl rings, and he caught more than 500 more passes for more than 7,000 more yards than Moss.
"If I had two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, what would my numbers be?" Moss asked. "Give me Tom Brady for the next 5-6 years and see what my numbers would be."
It's an outlandish proclamation, of course. Silly. Absurd.
Why, if you're fair about it, Moss isn't any better than, oh, second or so. In Rice, Moss picked the one guy whose career he can't match.
This is what Rice has accomplished. He is so clearly the No. 1 receiver in NFL history that you can't muster a good debate over who is No. 2. Hutson? Lofton? Berry? Owens? Harrison? If you don't judge controversies, Moss has outplayed them all.
Funny thing, though. Even as Moss argued his case, he seemed perplexed over the headlines it created. He kept trying to say he wasn't disrespecting Rice, as though he meant "I'm better than you" in the kindest way possible.
The thing is, Moss hasn't been among the top two receivers on his team for a very long time. He played for three teams in 2010 and ended up with only 28 catches. He sat out last year — family problems, he says. He had only 28 more catches this year.
"I can still go out there and make plays," Moss said. "I don't like my role. I don't. I like to be out there playing football."
For now, the 49ers don't need him on the field. In the locker room? That's different. Teammate Frank Gore, for instance, raves about Moss as a veteran guide.
"I've never been vocal," Moss said. "If there is anything I've been able to give back to the younger guys, it's my experience. It's something I never would have imagined."
For now, that is his role. Who knows? Maybe Moss makes a big catch or two on Sunday. Maybe he scores a touchdown. Maybe he makes a difference.
Jerry Rice would, you know.
Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.