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For now, Rice deserves to be considered the greatest player in NFL history because of how far he towers over everyone else in the statistics. The gap between Rice and whoever is in second place in any category is wider than at any position.
Rice is first in career receiving yards with 22,895. Terrell Owens is second with 15,934. The closest active player is Randy Moss, now with San Francisco, with 15,184.
Rice is No. 1 in career receptions with 1,549. Tony Gonzalez, a tight end for the Falcons, is second with 1,230. Gonzalez is nearing the end of a great career. He won’t catch Rice.
Career receiving touchdowns? Forget that, too. Rice has 197. Moss is second with 155.
Career touchdowns? Rice has 208. Emmitt Smith is second with 175. And he’s been retired for eight years.
The season Johnson is having makes it valid to compare him to Rice for what they accomplished at the same stage of their careers.
With 10 catches for 121 yards in the Lions’ 38-10 loss at Arizona Sunday, Johnson took several giants steps closer to breaking Rice’s record of receiving yards in a season. Rice had 1,848 in 1995 with the 49ers.
Johnson has 1,667 yards and needs 182 in the last two games to break Rice’s record.
This week’s Monday Countdown is taking a break from the weekly autopsy on the Lions’ season and their latest loss and is devoted entirely to how Rice and Johnson compare in various categories, with some weird stats and fun facts.
We start with how they stack up physically:
1. Rice:He was not physically imposing. He played at 6-2, 200 pounds. He played 20 seasons with San Francisco, Oakland and Seattle. Most of his career (16 seasons) was with the 49ers.
When he set the receiving yards record in 1995, it was his 11th season. He turned 33 on Oct. 13 of that season.
No one ever knew how fast Rice could run the 40-yard dash. The comment heard most often was that he ran as fast as he had to, and no one ever caught him from behind.
2. Johnson: He is called Megatron for a reason. Johnson is 6-5 and 239 pounds. At the NFL Combine in 2007, he was timed in less than 4.4 seconds for the 40-yard dash.
This is his sixth season, all as a Lion. He turned 27 on Sept. 25. He will turn 32 in his 11th season.
Before the Lions played at Green Bay in Week 14, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted a scout talking about Johnson.
“He’s pretty close to unstoppable, because you don’t have anybody who can match up with his size and his speed combined,” the scout said. “When you watch warmups, he looks bigger than their tight ends. Who does match up with this guy?”
3. Rice’s draft year: The 49ers took Rice 16th overall out of Mississippi Valley State. It was a surprise pick to many at the time because of Rice’s small-college background, but his skills fit perfectly with the 49ers West Coast Offense.
It was hard to fault most of the teams who drafted ahead of the 49ers. Two Hall of Famers went off the board – defensive ends Bruce Smith first overall to Buffalo and Chris Doleman fourth to the Vikings.
Two receivers were drafted ahead of Rice. The Jets took Al Toon 10th. He was having a great career, but it ended in 1992 because of severe concussions. Cincinnati took Eddie Brown 13th, and his career was so-so. He was out of football after 1991.
The Lions used the sixth pick on offensive tackle Lomas Brown, and he was one of the best linemen in franchise history. He played in seven Pro Bowls and ended his career in 2002 – his 18th season – with the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Bucs.
4. Calvin’s draft year: They had the second overall pick and didn’t hesitate to take Johnson, a three-year player at Georgia Tech.
Tech coach Chan Gailey, a former NFL head coach with Dallas and currently head coach in Buffalo, called Johnson “as close to can’t miss” as possible. Gailey was proven right.
Proven wrong were the Oakland Raiders. They took quarterback JaMarcus Russell with the first pick, and he was one of the biggest draft flops in history in any sport.
He was lacking in every category – ability and motivation – and was out of football after the ’09 season.
5. Rice after 14 games in 1995: 96 catches, 1,406 yards and 12 TDs.
He exploded in the last two games: 14 catches for 289 yards and 3 TDs in a 37-30 win at home over Minnesota in Game 15; 12 catches for 153 yards in a 28-27 loss at Atlanta in the final regular season game.
5. Calvin after 14 games: 106 catches, 1,667 yards but only five TDs. He was tackled at the one-yard line Sunday, marking the seventh time this season that he has been tackled at the two or the one.
6. Rice in final two games: He exploded to set the record: 289 yards and 3 TDs in a 37-30 win at home over Minnesota in Game 15; 12 catches for 153 yards in a 28-27 loss at Atlanta in the final regular-season game.
Final two-game total: 26 catches, 442 yards and three receiving TDs.
7. Calvin in final two games: The last two are at home, against Atlanta on Saturday night and Chicago in the finale. Both teams have two of the league’s better pass defenses.
Going into Week 15, the Falcons ranked 16th in pass defense, with 234.9 yards allowed per game, and the Bears were sixth with 205.5.
In a 13-7 loss at Chicago in Game 6, Johnson faced a tough matchup against Bears cornerback Charles Tillman and was held to three catches for 34 yards, his season low in both categories.
The Lions did not play the Falcons this season. In a loss in Game 7 last season, he had five catches for 115 yards.
8. Rice’s biggest game in the first 14 of ‘95: He had two games with 11 catches, and both led to his highest yardage totals of the first 14 games – 167 yards vs. Atlanta in Game 2 and 181 vs. the Lions in Game 4.
9. Calvin’s biggest games in the first 14: His three biggest games all were in losses - 207 yards on 12 catches vs. the Vikings; 171 yards on 13 catches vs. the Colts; 164 yards on 10 catches vs. the Titans.
10. Rice vs. Lions in 1995: The Game 4 matchup at the Pontiac Silverdome was memorable. The Lions started 0-3, and there was speculation that Wayne Fontes’ job was head coach was in jeopardy.
As usual, Fontes added to the storyline in a mid-week press conference, likening himself as “the big buck,” who everyone was shooting at.
It was a Monday Night TV game, and the Lions came out firing and won, 27-24, on
Rice was the offensive star, with 11 catches for 181 yards, but the Lions kept him out of the end zone.
Brett Perriman led the Lions with nine catches for 115 yards. Herman Moore had six catches for 73 yards and a TD.
Barry Sanders was held to 24 yards on 17 carries.
11. Rice’s 1995 final regular season game: A player couldn’t have done much more to demonstrate versatility.
In addition to his receiving stats, Rice recovered a fumble in the end zone for San Francisco’s first touchdown and threw a 41-yard TD pass to William Floyd. Rice also had a rushing TD earlier in the season.
In the ’95 season, Rice accounted for four TDs in different ways: receiving, passing, rushing and a fumble recovery.
12. Rice vs. Johnson at the same stage: After five full seasons and 14 games of season six, Rice had 316 catches for 7,706 yards and 79 TDs.
At the same stage, Calvin has 472 catches, 7,539 yards and 54 TDs.
Johnson has a big edge in catches. Rice has a slight edge in yards and a commanding lead in TD catches.
13. Hall of Fame: Rice was elected in 2010, the first year he was eligible.
Under the rules of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, players are eligible for induction five years after they retire. The Lions had better hope Johnson doesn’t retire anytime, but whenever he does, start the five-year clock ticking for his bust to reside in Canton. He’s a lock.