Frantz: No question: Rice the greatest ever 

On Saturday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will complete itself by welcoming into its hallowed halls the greatest professional football player in the history of the game.

Yes, such a bold declaration is certain to draw howls of protest from those who believe players at different positions, and from different eras, can’t be accurately measured against one another. Despite every protest, however, I will stand firmly behind Jerry Rice as the best player to ever lace a cleat.

Those who argue that linebackers and quarterbacks are apples and oranges have a point. Comparing a quarterback’s touchdown and yardage totals to a linebacker’s tackle and sack counts is downright silly. However, measuring an all-time great against those at his own position, and calculating the gap between them, can certainly give us a clearer understanding of just how dominant a player was in the context of the entire game.

For example, Jim Brown is widely regarded as the best running back in NFL history. However, credible cases can and have been made for the completeness of Walter Payton and the amazing exploits of Barry Sanders, who, like Brown, exited the game far too early, but maintains the third-highest rushing total in history. And of course, the NFL’s all-time statistical leader in yards and touchdowns is Emmitt Smith.

In comparing quarterbacks, Brett Favre has compiled the most completions, yards and touchdowns in history, but is also the career leader in interceptions.

It is usually Joe Montana, with his fistful of jewelry, that is universally acknowledged as the superior player, but without the gaudy statistics. Dan Marino has similar statistics to Favre, while active superstars Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are still writing their legacies. And legendary QBs Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham and Sammy Baugh make the quarterback question almost unanswerable.

Similarly, the outstanding defensive players in history can be compared and contrasted for years without a conclusion. Was the intimidation and ferocity of legendary linebacker Dick Butkus better than the game-changing outside speed and power of sack-machine Lawrence Taylor? Was Deion Sanders, who could shut down half a field, a better defensive back than Rod Woodson, who was nearly Sanders’ equal as a cover corner, but twice the tackler and run-supporter? Or do Willie Brown and Ronnie Lott knock both of them out of the conversation? And how does one even begin to measure Joe Greene vs. Deacon Jones, among others?

Yes, credible arguments can be made at virtually every position in football. Except for wide receiver. There, the discussion begins and ends with Rice.

Rice’s 1,549 catches are an impossible 447 more than his runner-up. His 22,895 receiving yards are an astounding 7,600 more than second place. His 208 career touchdowns are 33 more than his nearest (non)competitor.

In fact, Rice caught 1,000 passes for 13,546 yards and 102 touchdowns ... after the age of 30. Those numbers are matched by only Marvin Harrison, Cris Carter and Terrell Owens in their entire careers.

Perhaps the argument over the game’s greatest player can never truly be won. For me, however, it’s not even close.

Welcome to Canton, Jerry Rice: The Greatest Of All Time.

Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.

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