I’ve written several histories of NFL career records, but the history of the career receiving touchdowns record is the most fascinating to me. Twelve men held the receptions title, and eleven held the receiving yards record. Seven different players held the record for rushing yards and for rushing touchdowns. Eleven quarterbacks held the passing yardage crown, while ten captured the touchdown title. This record is different. Thanks, primarily, to Don Hutson and Jerry Rice, only four players have held the record for receiving touchdowns since the NFL started keeping official statistics in 1932.
Receivers to Hold the Career Receiving Touchdowns Record
Johnny Blood (7 years as record-holder)
By the end of 1932, the first season in the official NFL record book, Blood had scored 25 receiving touchdowns. Most of those occurred in the “pre-stat” era, with 22 of his scores coming between 1926-31. That includes a career high (by far) eleven touchdowns in 1931.1 He played until 1938, slowly racking up touchdowns and retiring with 37 through the air.
Don Hutson (49 years, 3 months as record-holder)
Huston finished the 1939 season with 36 receiving touchdowns, just one shy of Blood’s record. To begin 1940, he tied the record in the third quarter of a blowout loss to the Bears, and he broke it in the opening quarter of a blowout win over the Cardinals. He got a fortunate break when WW2 took much of the talent from the NFL; during the war-depleted years, Hutson had by far his most productive touchdown seasons (1941-43 were his only three season with double-digit receiving scores). He ended his career with 99 receiving touchdowns, a number that wasn’t approached for decades.
Steve Largent (3 years as record-holder)
Largent was two touchdowns shy of the record coming into the 1989 season. Things looked dim for the receiver, who scored in week one but followed with ten straight weeks without a touchdown. However, he was able to tie the record in game twelve and subsequently break it in week 14. The last touchdown of his storied Hall of Fame career was the one that gave him sole possession of the record. He didn’t hold the record for long, because the most prolific player of all time was already on his heels.
Jerry Rice (26 years, 5 months as record-holder, so far)
Through seven seasons (1985-91), Rice had already compiled 93 receiving touchdowns.2 In week 12 of 1992, Rice tied Largent’s record in a victory over the Eagles. The following week, in a dominant win over the Dolphins, the GOAT gained sole possession of the record, becoming the first player in history to top the century mark. He added an incredible 96 touchdowns after that, walking away with 197 and a distant lead over anyone before or since.3
- He never had another season with more than five touchdowns. ↩
- He did this despite a slow start, hauling in just three touchdown passes as a rookie. Rice then scored 15, 22, 9, 17, 13, and 14 receiving touchdowns, averaging a touchdown per game over that span. ↩
- The second and third place receivers, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, were incredibly productive for several years. Moss finished with 156, and Owens finished with 153. The two of them have a sizable lead over fourth place Cris Carter (130), but neither is within 40 of Rice. ↩