Rice calls is good
DENVER ” Jerry Rice spent 20 years making every sacrifice he could to play the game he loved.
He knew his football career was over when all those sacrifices weren’t enough to make him a key player in Denver for one, final season.
Relegated to reserve duty or nothing with the Broncos, Rice chose the latter, calling it a career Monday after two record-setting decades in the NFL.
“I think that’s it for me,” Rice said during his farewell news conference at Broncos headquarters. “I’m done and I’m looking forward to the next phase of my life now.”
With that, the NFL reached the end of an era, saying goodbye to a once-in-a-lifetime player.
The 42-year-old receiver, a first-round draft pick out of tiny Mississippi Valley State in 1985, leaves the field with 38 league records, including the most career receptions (1,549), yards receiving (22,895) and touchdowns receiving (197).
But as much as the numbers, it was the way he did things that made the biggest impression ” the right way. He was a master of details, a maestro of route-running precision, a good guy off the field and a workout junkie both in season and out.
Revered by fans and his peers, Rice told his short-time teammates in Denver that he was retiring during a short meeting held after his public announcement. The Broncos gave him a standing ovation.
“I’d never seen anything like that before,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. “That shows you the kind of respect the man has.”
Shanahan said Rice is the best player to ever play the game, and there are many who would agree.
He led the 49ers to three Super Bowl titles and helped make Joe Montana and Steve Young look great. He mastered the West Coast offense and made a career of turning short catches into long gains, strutting into the end zone, his arms raised aloft.
His work ethic and attention to the little things gave an entire generation of receivers someone to look up to.
How detail oriented was he?
Shanahan said Rice insisted the right-handed assistant who threw practice passes to the receivers be replaced with a lefty when the 49ers switched from the right-handed Montana to the left-handed Young.
“… I’d see him upstairs. One time, I said, ‘Jerry, what are you doing?”‘ recalled Shanahan, who spent three years coaching Rice as San Francisco’s offensive coordinator. “He said, ‘I was looking at film. I’m looking at the top 10 receivers in the AFC and the top 10 receivers in the NFC. I don’t want any of these young guys ever to catch me.”‘
Inevitably, though, time did catch up with Rice.
After 16 years with the Niners, Rice went to Oakland, where he had three fairly productive seasons. But it became clear the end might be near last season when the Raiders phased him out, prompting a midseason trade to Seattle.
He still averaged 14.3 yards a catch last season and scored three touchdowns, showing traces of the big-play capability he flashed so often earlier in his career.
Last spring, his agent put out a league-wide memo stating that the GOAT ” the Greatest Of All Time ” was available.
Denver looked like a great fit: a team with a winning tradition, coached by a man with whom Rice was familiar and comfortable. So Rice signed with the Broncos, knowing there was no guarantee of a roster spot.
After some early trouble adjusting to the mile-high altitude, Rice looked in shape and ready for a 21st season. About halfway through training camp, he moved ahead of Darius Watts, to Denver’s No. 3 receiver spot.
That move caused a stir, but a closer look showed a receiver who had trouble separating from third- and fourth-string cornerbacks in practice, a receiver who finished with four catches for 24 yards in four preseason games.
When Watts improved, Rice was bumped back down the depth chart in the third preseason game. After the finale, Shanahan told Rice he’d be a No. 4, at best, competing for playing time with youngsters Charlie Adams and Todd Devoe.
“I think it’s the right thing,” said Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, the last man to coach Rice in a real game. “I know how hard this was for him. He’d like to play until he’s 60 if he could. I’ve never met anyone quite like that.”
Shanahan was willing to give Rice a roster spot, but told him the third receiver spot was out and there were no guarantees he’d play every week. Rice didn’t want to deal with the possible indignity of being declared inactive for games or withering away on the bench when he did suit up.
“He did everything he could possibly do to get that job,” Shanahan said of Denver’s third receiver spot. “But it’s my job to be honest to the team and do the tough job. I had to do the right thing for the organization. Jerry understands that.”
Rice believes his route running was “still pretty good,” although he concedes he’s not as explosive as he used to be.
“Eventually,” he said, “everything is going to catch up with you.”
Everything finally did catch up with Rice. With the end upon him, he was sad, overwhelmed and maybe even a little bit surprised as he stood behind the microphone to announce his retirement.
“I never thought I’d ever see this day,” he said.
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