It’s one thing to start feeling older when you see 19 and 20 year old kids come into professional sports, but when your favorite football player is set to enter the Hall of Fame, you start to realize how old you are. I thought about that as I was watching old Jerry Rice clips this week. I’m fortunate to remember, virtually, all of Rice’s record shattering career. I’ve told my younger brother how I wish he was a few years older so he could fully remember seeing Michael Jordan and Rice at the peak of their powers. I was fortunate to grow up at the perfect time (mid 80′s- early to mid 90′s). I grew up with tv shows like Miami Vice, Cheers, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Friends, Saturday Night’s Main Event, and Seinfeld. I also grew up during the golden age of rap when guys like Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Dr. Dre, and Tribe Called Quest made your head bob and think at the same time, unlike the nonsense of today’s amateurs– All of that on top of being able to watch the perfect football player who became The G.O.A.T. is something I cherish.
Jerry Lee Rice was the guy I tried to be in backyard football games as a kid. I tried to run like him, line up like him, had his gloves, and, of course, his #80 jersey. I loved the 49ers growing up because they were thee team. They had everything. A great owner, a great coach, great players, and they always won. Jerry Rice helped me develop a love for football like Jordan did basketball. My admiration for him has grown as I’ve gotten older because I’ve met him at numerous autograph shows. Each time I’ve gotten something signed by him, he’s been down to earth and extremely polite. It’s sad, but there aren’t many guys like that. So many athletes that do those signings have a puss on the whole time, don’t say a word, and make you wish you didn’t pay money to get their autograph. I think that stems from Rice’s upbringing and the fact he wasn’t given everything on a silver platter like today’s athletes. Rice had to work to get to the highest level. Whether it was catching bricks two at a time working with his father, or chasing horses in Mississippi as a kid, Rice was driven. He is the ultimate example of what hard work and dedication can do for someone. He was never the fastest player(he ran a 4.59 40 yard dash coming out of school and, yes, the Raiders didn’t think he was fast enough…..go figure), but you never caught him from behind. Bill Walsh saw his talent at Mississippi Valley State and pulled off the greatest draft day trade ever by giving up 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round picks to move up to the 16th spot to take him. I think that trade worked out well, wouldn’t you say? To pay tribute to The G.O.A.T., I’ve decided to give my favorite Rice memories and do my best to put his phenomenal career in perspective.
You have a a second to grab a snack and a beer before we get started……..Ok, let’s do this.
One of the true myths is that Randy Moss holds the single season record with touchdown catches at 23, set in 2007. I’m here to tell you that’s wrong. Moss “broke” Rice’s record in 16 games in ’07. Rice set the record with 22 in a 12 game strike shortened season in 1987. Yes, 22 TD catches in 12 games. He also continued his streak that season with a TD catch in 13 straight games dating back to ’86. The rules much like the NBA, in the 80′s favored the defense opposed to today. Moss had a great ’07 season, but make no mistake, that record still belongs to Rice. Deal with it.
I was always amazed at how Rice was open constantly. How he got open against double and triple teams still boggles my mind. In Atlanta in ’90 Rice set an NFL record with 5 TD catches against poor Charles Dimry and the Falcons. Joe Montana to Jerry Rice was a video game. To this day I can’t lose in Tecmo SuperBowl for old school Nintendo playing with the 49ers. No, you can’t beat me either. It is what it is. Nice try.
Rice once said he always wanted to put on a show for the paying customer. Never was that more evident than on the big stage of Monday Night Football. Rice and the 49ers owned Monday nights in the 80′-90′s like Eddie Murphy owned Saturday Night Live. Rice’s numbers in Monday night games? 254 catches, 4,029 yards, and 36 touchdowns.
3 of those 36 Monday night touchdowns came on opening night in ’94 against the Raiders when Rice caught 2 TD’s and ran for another as he passed Walter Payton and Jim Brown to become the NFL’s all time touchdown leader. He broke that record in 9 seasons! Take a sip of your beer and think about that for a second……
The all-time touchdown record isn’t the only record Rice owns. Along with the single season TD record we gave back to him earlier, here is a list at the records the perfect player holds……
All-Time Touchdowns: 208. That’s 33 more than Emmitt Smith, who is 2nd all-time with 175.
Receiving Yards: 22,895. Issac Bruce is 2nd on the list with 15,208.
Receiving Touchdowns: 197
All-Time Leader In Receptions: 1,549. He is 447 ahead of the number 2 guy on the list Marvin Harrison.
303 Games Played Is The Most Ever By A Wide Receiver.
He Is the NFL’s All-Time Leader In Yards From Scrimmage: 23,540 yards. If you took Rice’s receiving yards alone, they would rank 2nd all-time in yards from scrimmage.
Not a bad resume for the 16th pick in the ’85 draft, huh?! Rice didn’t just own Monday nights. He shined on the games biggest stage. Rice was a part of 3 SuperBowl winning teams with the 49ers. He led the 49ers to the SuperBowl in ’88 with a dominant playoff run. He caught 3 touchdowns in a 34-9 win over the Vikings in the divisional playoffs, and followed it up with 2 more against the Bears in the NFC Championship Game. His 5 catches for 123 yards and 2 TD’s in frigid Soldier Field against the Bears put him on another level. He won MVP honors in SuperBowl XXIII as the Niners came back to beat the Bengals 20-16.Rice caught 11 passes for 215 yards, and a TD. Just another day at the office for the guy once called Fifi.
A year later, Rice caught 7 passes for 148 yards and 3 TD’s in the 49ers 55-10 thrashing of the Denver Broncos in SuperBowl XXIV. The Broncos weren’t a push over. They gave up the fewest points in the league in ’89. That’s how good that ’89 Niner team was. Rice was dominant in that ’89 season catching 82 passes for 1,483 and 17 touchdowns. He added 12 catches for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Niners destroyed the Vikings and Rams on their way to the SuperBowl. The Vikings had the league’s number 1 defense in ’89, and recorded 71 sacks(one short of the NFL record). The Niners offense line didn’t allow a sack in the 41-13 ass kicking. They also pounded the Rams in the NFC Championship Game 30-3.
Like a fine wine, he kept getting better with age. Rice was, again, brilliant in his last SuperBowl with the 49ers. This time he was in the big game with Steve Young throwing to him instead of Joe Montana. He and Young hooked up 10 times for 149 yards, and 3 touchdowns in the 49ers 49-26 win over the Chargers. It wasn’t that close. What made that performance more impressive was that Rice separated his shoulder in the 2nd quarter, and came back to finish his job.
That’s what Jerry always did….his job. He wasn’t like the loud mouth look at me receivers of today. He let his game do his talking. There wasn’t dancing in the endzone after touchdowns, there wasn’t pre-meditated celebrations, and there certainly weren’t reality shows. The guy just did his job. The 49ers mantra during the 80′s and 90′s was “win with class.” Nobody exemplified that more than Rice. Eddie Debartolo created a culture with the 49ers, and guys like Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Steve Young, and Rice led the way.
I feel fortunate to have seen him play because he was one of the few athletes that was worth looking up to. As the days go by, seemingly, the good guy athlete is dwindling quicker than the WNBA’s ratings. Steve Young told a story that describes Rice perfectly. A few days after the 49ers won SuperBowl XXIX, Young went to the practice facility late at night to get a few things out of his locker. When he arrived, he noticed the lights on the practice field were on. Young looked out, and sure enough Rice was out there running wind sprints by himself. That’s Jerry Rice. 99% of guys would still be out celebrating a championship, but here was this guy working at his craft. Maybe that’s why Rice has 1,000 catches, 13,546 yards, and 102 touchdowns after he turned 30!!! only 3 receivers(Marvin Harrison, Cris Carter, and Terrell Owens) have better numbers than those for their entire careers!
He is truly in a class by himself as the greatest all around football player that ever played the game. Says Ravens linebacker, Ray Lewis, “I don’t know what argument you’re going to make why he is not.” It’s a tough argument, but there wasn’t one aspect of the game Rice couldn’t do well. He was a great blocker, could run reverses like a running back, throw a deep ball like a quarterback, and take a simple 5 yard slant play the distance at the drop of a hat. No matter who you prefer, Flash 80 is in the discussion of the greatest ever. It’s why I still I have his gloves, his jerseys and, occasionally, do a quick slant and pretend to take it to the house. Much like the tv shows and music I listened to growing up, Jerry Rice still holds up to this day. When professional receivers down to a regular guy like me tries to emulate The G.O.A.T., you know just how special he was. Thankfully, I was old enough to see Sonny Crockett, Michael Jordan, Sam Malone, and the greatest football player of all-time all in the prime of their careers. Damn, do I miss the mid 80′s to early 90′s.