Final Curtain Call for Jerry Rice as a 49er
May 26, 2001 at 12:00 AM
The final curtain is about to fall on one of the very last remaining legends of past glory in regards to the San Francisco 49er organization. He has captivated and stunned hundreds of thousands with his acrobatic athleticism and unselfish charisma on and off the field.
Jerry Rice epitomizes and lives up to his very status as probably the greatest wide receiver to have ever played the game in The National Football League. He has reached out and touched many lives with his sincerity and serene understanding that has been a factor in his many charity contributions to help others.
He has actually defined what a true athlete needs to be on and off the field in regards to training, motivation, ambition, sound character, honesty, hard work ethic, teamwork, sacrifice and professionalism. Jerry is the perfect prototype for all great athletes to follow and recognize.
No one in all honesty has defined their position better in all professional football except for Joe Montana at quarterback than Jerry Rice at the wide receiver position. Everything he does he does for the advancement of the team as a whole. His records, which are so numerous and so out of reach, have been accomplished because of the organization and the talent that has been put around him.
Jerry has maintained those records and continues to break records, but he has done so not at the sacrifices of the team, he has always put his team and teammates at the forefront of his own personnel accomplishments. He is probably the most unselfish athlete you could no but the most competitive one you will always know.
Jerry Rice is an African-American football player born in Crawford, Mississippi on October 13, 1962. Crawford is such a small rural town it is one you probably wouldn’t even be able to find on a map. The very population in Crawford was less than 500 people when Jerry was growing up. Jerry came from very large family seven siblings lived with him.
His father was a bricklayer by trade and that is the very same profession he handed down to Jerry. His main task was to catch bricks to hand to his father. Many experts and journalists have depicted the beating of bricks being thrown into Jerry’s hands as the developing of his hand-eye coordination; thus, ability for football was supposedly instilled in him. Jerry however denied that theory. “I think it just taught me hard work. My father was very demanding, and it was a challenge to keep everything running smoothly. We had to lay a certain number of bricks every day, so he’d really push everybody hard.”
Jerry is a man that constantly analyzes himself and looks for imperfections, he constantly looks at ways of beating those flaws on a daily basis, and his inner drive to excel at everything he does is so immense it goes without question. Even if this bricklaying was not the foundation for his football career, it certainly did teach him one thing.
It taught him hard work ethic. His very own work ethic is one of the greatest attributes that separate him from other athletes. He will always come to training camp early; he’ll practice over the off-season. These are the things that give Jerry the extra edge he has over most football players.
One can only imagine how this one person could have such a dramatic effect on an entire league of professional football players, but he has made the game his greatest passion in his life. And he honestly believes that he has even more to give, even if it means the unthinkable and that is taking off the 49er uniform to play somewhere else.
I for one like so many of you am sickened at the thought of Jerry wearing and playing the game of football in a different uniform, and not running around 3-Com Park in a victory celebration. His absence is already being felt not only on the field but in the locker room as well, as Jerry was always a source of great encouragement and leadership.
As Jerry was growing up in Crawford he was not your typical perfect kid. Back in tenth grade, Jerry did something most all of us did in our high school lives. He played hooky. And he did it often. He always hid behind the school and always got away with it, until one fine day the principal was going on a campus sweep and caught Jerry behind the building.
Jerry startled ran as fast as he could to get away from the principal, running so fast that only a blur could be seen of him. He even got away from the principal that very day. But his next day was not so good. He got a trip to the principal’s office and a whipping. At the same time he was mandated to join the schools football team, because the principal had never seen such a kid run so fast in all his life. So his football career began.
Jerry enjoyed high school football; the only mishap was the fact that it did not get him into any prestigious college. His family’s income was limited and so his football abilities were his only way to get there. Mississippi Valley State’s coach Cooley assessed Jerry’s abilities at one high school football game and came away impressed; so impressed that a scholarship awaited him at Mississippi Valley State.
In his college career with Mississippi Valley State he was an instant success, however Mississippi was a little known Division I-AA school. Even though this school was the perfect training ground for Jerry’s future. Coach Archie “Gunslinger” Cooley loved enforcing a pass-oriented offense. Jerry did so well that his college teammates gave him the name “World” because they believed he could catch anything in the world. Jerry fit in well with the offense, and the ball was thrown to him constantly.
In his sophomore year he caught 66 passes for 1,133 yards and seven touchdowns. His football abilities suddenly started to bloom; all of a sudden he started breaking national college records. In his junior year, he caught 24 passes in one game, an all-division record. And in one game he caught 12 passes and scored three touchdowns in just the first quarter. Over Jerry’s entire college career, he broke eighteen Division I-AA records. You would think this at least would land him in the NFL?
The one thing that bothered Jerry though most was his speed. He ran fast but not fast enough. One critical measurement scouts look for in an athlete is their speed. He ran 40-yards in 4.6 seconds, according to the stopwatch. That alone hurt his chances to land in the NFL. However he held out hope and San Francisco 49er Head Coach Bill Walsh answered it.
Bill while watching television got a glimpse of Jerry during highlights of college football. There he was Jerry Rice, diving in for an amazing touchdown catch. Walsh’s first thoughts were that his team would be playing against Rice someday. He believed Jerry would be drafted early, and that the 49er’s would not have a chance at him after just winning a Super Bowl.
The 49er’s were last in line to draft a player, and Jerry Rice was thought to be surely taken. However after learning that Jerry’s stopwatch time was not so good virtually no team was interested in him. That is when Bill Walsh took the immaculate chance and parted with the 49er’s first, second, and third draft picks in exchange for the Patriots first round pick. That very move proved successful, because that is when the San Francisco 49er’s landed Jerry Lee Rice. He was the 1985 first round 16th selection draft pick, and it was a big shock to him.
Rice still remembers his reaction to that day: “Oh my god, I’m going to San Francisco, a big city where I’ve never been, the team that just won the Super Bowl.” This was the marriage that was to reap benefits for many glorious years.
What is so ironic now though is the very fact that Jerry is now being used by the 49er’s to clear needed salary cap money to sign it’s 2001 NFL Draft rookies. As he will be released by San Francisco after June 1st in order to save in estimation $2.5 million.
There has been rumors of this happening as far back as two-years ago, as the pressure to rid the club of it’s aging superstars was immense when Bill Walsh was brought back as the general manager. Jerry managed to reduce his salary on several occasions to comply and allow the franchise to squeak by the league’s mandated salary cap limits, and still be as productive as he had always been. His role with the team began to diminish a little when Terrell Owens began turning up his production and the factor of youth was involved.
With Steve Young’s retirement the question of Jerry’s retiring was soundly for the very first time ringing in Jerry’s head. Speculation was that he would retire soon after Steve did and do so as a 49er at least that was the hope. However Jerry believes he is far from that deadline as of yet, and wants to be a factor on the field for at least two more years.
Knowing his future will not end in San Francisco he was given permission to talk to other teams, turning away a $1 million bonus should he choose to retire as a 49er. Already several teams are expressing great interest and have brought him in for talks and evaluation.
One of his stops has been Seattle whom is coached by none other than Mike Holmgren and he already went under the team’s physical exam in which other team’s have talked to him but not examined him.
Mike Holmgren of the Seattle Seahawks knows Jerry well having been the offensive coordinator for the 49er’s and Jerry was the main attraction. Holmgren has already released his starting veteran wide receivers, Sean Dawkins and Derrick Mayes, after the season, and is left with two players with one year of experience, Darrell Jackson and James Williams, and Karsten Bailey, who has two years.
On top of that Seattle is geographically the closest of possibilities next to Oakland. Rice had a great relationship with Mike Holmgren as the 49er’s offensive coordinator, and the Seahawks operate a West Coast offense similar to what the 49er’s use.
Holmgren along with other head coaches believes Rice, with his experience and hard work habits, would be a great leader for his young players. Jim Steiner Rice’s agent said, “Seattle is a possibility, but definitely not a lock.” He added: “It doesn’t have to be the highest (bidder). It just has to be a representative deal for who he is. It won’t be a minimum contract.”
“He could teach young receivers how to practice, how to look at tapes, how to work out in the off-season,” said Cleveland Browns Vice President Dwight Clark, who was Rice’s teammate during Rice’s first three years in the NFL. Added Detroit Lions President Matt Millen: “The young guys don’t know how to work like he knows how to work. Even in year 17 or 18, whatever it is, he’ll still work them to death. He’ll embarrass them.”
Jim Steiner said Rice, who will turn 39 in October, wants to play two more years. That would put that much more distance between himself and his pursuers in the record books, and, if he joined the Seahawks, probably would permit him to play two games against the 49er’s in the 2002 season following the NFL’s realignment.
With Jerry’s contract with the 49er’s, he was scheduled to earn $2.5 million this season, including a $1 million roster bonus due June 2nd. He will in all senses have to accept less from a new team. The Browns are in a position to pay the most money, but Steiner said money would not be the only issue. Unless, of course, the Browns just throw their bankroll at him, which is highly unlikely.
Jerry is determined to find a destination that will suit his present needs; he is persistent that he does have some more years left in his well-chiseled body that he puts through an unbelievable regimen almost every day. He is a conditioned freak of nature and prides himself on his physique.
With the two knee surgeries he endured in 1997, Rice does have some stipulations as to where he does go. He would like to finish his career on a grass field, Seattle’s field is not grass, but it’s new strain of soft, artificial turf won rave reviews last year. Cleveland plays on grass, but it freezes late in the season. Detroit plays indoors, on hard, artificial turf.
“I don’t think that leaves us out, but that would be one of the variables that goes into the decision-making process for the team and for Jerry,” Lions Head Coach Marty Mornhinweg said. Mornhinweg of course being Jerry’s offensive coordinator just last year before accepting the head coaches position with Detroit.
The example Rice could set for other young receivers have to be an overriding consideration when you really think about it. he would seem likely to wind up with a team that wants him to be a leader on the field, as a starter, not as, say, a third-down receiver. Seattle is one that offers him that chance.
The questions that remain of course are how much does Jerry Rice still have? His per-catch average last year dropped to 10.7 yards, down from 12.4 in 1999 and 15.3 for his pre-2000 career. Marty Mornhinweg, who was the 49er offensive coordinator, said he did not see the run-after-the-catch in 2000 that Rice used to have, But, he said, a review of tapes after the year showed there weren’t as many opportunities as in the past.
That does not seem to factor in though with those teams that have contacted him and shown a real interest in his services. “He doesn’t have to be productive like he was in 1989,” Matt Millen said. “He can be productive like 1999 or 2000, and that’s fine by me.”
Cleveland has also expressed a keen interest in Jerry’s services again former 49er executives that run the franchise see Jerry as a real mentor to it’s young receiving unit as a whole. “I talk to Jerry often as a friend,” Carmen Policy told WTAM-1100 AM. “He’ll call just to ask me how I’m doing. I would say there’s a possibility that we’ll have more discussions with Jerry about his playing situation ongoing after the draft.”
The likelihood of Rice going to Cleveland seems remote though as the Browns are more interested in promoting young receivers Kevin Johnson and JaJuan Dawson then they are in prolonging Rice’s career. Seattle is a logical destination. It is not far from Rice’s Bay Area home. He also has a place as a veteran receiver who can school young teammates. He knows the offense. He knows running back Ricky Waters. Most of all, he knows the head coach, Mike Holmgren was Rice’s offensive coordinator for years in San Francisco.
Detroit has made a very strong pitch for Rice’s services also as he visited there in April for a brief visit and came away very pleased with the talks. “The conversation we had was very, very positive and I’m glad I came. I think it would be ideal,” Rice told the Detroit Free Press. “I think I can help a lot of the young guys and, like I said, this place is hungry.” Jerry spent two days in discussion with newly acquired Head Coach Marty Mornhinweg and Detroit General Manager Matt Millen.
The Oakland Raiders have been a player also and seem to have the inside edge as far as proximity to his new home he is building. If Rice does chose to sign with Oakland it would be in keeping with a Raiders tradition of signing high profile 49er’s. Under the old Plan B system in 1991, the 49er’s left running back Roger Craig and safety Ronnie Lott on their unprotected list. The Raiders promptly signed both players.
The Raiders did not stop there in stealing quality players from San Francisco; they also signed former 49er’s tight end Jamie Williams and former fullback Tom Rathman in 1994. Rathman since has returned to the 49er’s as their running backs coach.
And just recently in this very off-season another high-profile 49er player joined the ranks of the Oakland Raiders and that being star running back Charlie Garner. Garner released by the 49er’s mainly due to salary cap measures signed with Oakland on April 13th.
Jerry breaks out in laughing when he recalls the message Charlie left him on his answering machine at home. “All he said was 'Come on Jerry; I need you. Come on over and let’s go win this championship.’ Just like that, point blank. That got my juices flowing,” Rice said.
The 49er organization knew this day would come either with Quarterback Steve Young or Wide Receiver Jerry Rice, Young was a different ending in the fact medically it was in his best interest to retire. Jerry still has ambition and his health to fall back on and has every right to keep on playing.
Even though the 49er’s are not looking forward as are thousands of fans to seeing him go, they are committed to it since it will mean $2.5 million in salary-cap savings this season. However, in 2002, the 49er’s will be charged $3.6 million against the cap to account for the remainder of Rice’s pro-rated signing bonus.
“I wish he was 24, and he was going to be a 49er for another 10 or 12 years,” Coach Steve Mariucci said. Early in May the Oakland Raiders have brought Jerry in for a physical and discussions on his future.
“Playing for the Raiders would keep me in the Bay Area and that’s home,” Rice said. “It’s a team that is a contender. It would be an ideal thing for me. I’d get a chance to line up with Tim Brown.”
“I just don’t want to get my hopes up because then there would be a big letdown. My thing is. After June 1st, I hope to get something done as quickly as possible so I can move on.”
“I’ve been working out hard,” added Rice, who spurned a $1 million incentive to retire as a 49er. “I’ve been really pushing myself because I feel like wherever I go, I’m going to have to produce. I think no matter what, there’s going to be a lot of controversy behind it because they’re going to say, “ The guy’s 38. But I think I’m in the best shape of my life right now, and I’m not ready to give it up.”
The reality of Jerry Rice’s absence was surely felt when the 49er’s held their very first mini-camp training session this year wrapping up on April 29th. His presence along with linebacker Ken Norton Jr. was a scenario all too new to the current roster players.
“It was different, not seeing them here, because they were the guys that you really looked up to when you were young,” second-year cornerback Jason Webster said. “I got to play with them one year, but now they’re gone. We just have to try to lead by example, and try to do for new guys what those guys did for us last year. The season goes on. We’re going on and they’re going on, too.”
All that remains of Jerry is his name on the roster and his locker, which no longer bears his name plate, all it has is a few memento’s a picture of him and his wife, Jackie, a 49er’s hat and a bag of golf tees. However his absence from the 49er mini-camp was in all by mutual agreement a the organization has accepted the fact that it is merely biding it’s time till after June 1st, where they will release the 15-year veteran and save $2.5 million against the salary cap.
“Not having them here, not to hear their voices, made it difficult,” Julian Peterson said. “I know that I have to step up, In a sense, I have to be Ken Norton, and those are hard shoes to fill.”
Even defensive end Andre Carter, the 49er’s top draft choice out of California, said he hoped to play with Norton and Rice. “Unfortunately things happened where they had to move on,” Carter said. “I think some people do miss Rice. But even though he’s not playing with the 49er’s, he’s still contributing because there’s people telling us how he did things.”
It is without question that the 49er’s are indeed going through a massive transition as the rebuilding phase enters it’s last stretch. We all have to be patient and believe that what the management does from here on out is in the best possible interests of our future. Bill Walsh has built that foundation to take place now new general manager Terry Donahue must finish the project.
Head Coach Steve Mariucci has pointed out that two-thirds of the 49er’s 105-member mini-camp roster consists of first and second-year players. Indeed, only nine players remain from Mariucci’s first season as coach in 1997, including Dana Stubblefield, who spent three years with the Washington Redskins before rejoining the 49er’s as a free agent just recently.
“There’s certainly a transition-taking place here,” Mariucci said. “We miss those guys dearly. They’re not only good players. They’re great in the locker room. They’re fantastic to have with us. We have a few familiar faces, but it’s unbelievable how many first and second-year players there are. But we’re going to make that a good thing. This will be the new generation of 49er’s, and out of that bunch we’ll find the rising stars and develop them and do it quickly, hopefully.”
The very man that will take over Jerry’s spot on the 49er roster is none other than Terrell Owens who is entering his sixth season, and has already proved that he is indeed worthy of taking over as the team’s undisputed go-to-receiver. Owens led the team with 97 catches for 1.451 yards and 13 touchdowns last season and went on to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career.
Owens has been mentored by Jerry and is one of the most lethal in the league today as defined by his performances on and off the field. He credits Jerry for so many ideals and principals and has openly admitted that his game is better because of Jerry Rice playing alongside him. “I don’t carry that mystique of being Jerry Rice,” Owens said. 'I know that because when I came here and looking back over the years, all the players came here and got Jerry’s autograph before the first camp was over. That hasn’t been the case with me.”
So the process of Jerry’s quest for a new home continues as he examines all possibilities and weighs what is best for him and his family. His desire is to remain in the Bay Area as he now has a new home and is determined to make that his place to live and work.
“Nothing has been finalized,” said agent Jim Steiner, who represents Rice. “So far, Seattle, Detroit and Oakland have shown some legitimate interest. Cleveland was interested initially early but they have backed off.” “Keep in mind that he has visited those places and taken physicals, but he has not worked out for anybody.”
The prize in Jerry Rice is the mere fact that whomever acquires his services they will be rewarded two-fold over and over again as Jerry lives up to being the greatest receiver of all time. He is what professional football is all about and raises the bar on excellence and hard work really does pay off.
One of the most amazing sights is seeing Jerry out on the practice field, even though he holds almost every significant receiving record in NFL history, many who’ve been around Rice claim he’s even more impressive believe it or not on the practice field. While most players 10 or 15 years younger take much-needed breaks between practice repetitions, Rice rarely takes a knee to watch the first-team defense work against the scout offense.
One thing you will always know about Rice is that he is always doing something never sitting or standing still, whether it’s running routes by himself or catching passes often being thrown by trainers or equipment managers.
Jerry Rice along with a few others during the 1980’s and 90’s, set the tone for 49er’s practice sessions. The team was often just as crisp during the week as they were on Sunday’s during a period of time when it went 16 consecutive seasons with 10 or more victories.
Everyone that has had the privilege and honor of practicing with Jerry out on the field has come away a better athlete for it, in recognizing that hard work ethic really does hold its weight in gold. Jerry again epitomizes what a well-conditioned athlete is and what they are supposed to represent and that is their team at all times on and off the field.
“The work ethic of Jerry Rice and Roger Craig just set a standard for everybody;” former 49er’s coach and general manager Bill Walsh said. “I demanded it but they did it with ease.”
“It’s because Jerry was such a fine athlete; He had the stamina to do the thing. Other guys would catch the ball and try to run down the field like Jerry, but they would be wiped out in two or three pass patterns. Jerry could do it all day. If you ran a 40-yard sprint, Jerry could run it the same time 10 straight times. The other guys could peak up and go downhill.”
Even in the off-season Jerry can be seen around the Bay Area at local college tracks working out with a handful of other NFL players. Those who have seen him work out recently claim he is running with more explosion than he has since prior to his two knee surgeries of 1997.
In the 2000 season Jerry caught 75 passes for 805 yards and seven touchdowns. The 10.7-yard average was the lowest of his 16-year career. Rice needs 753 yards receiving to eclipse the 20,000-yard receiving mark.
You have to admire Jerry not only as the greatest receiver of all time but as a human being as well. If you don’t like football, you can still admire his charisma and attitude as well. He is the very one person you would be proud of in calling him a friend. He has the greatest list of achievements some that are nearly impossible to match.
But just recently Jerry added to that list in earning himself a college degree, it was not a receiving record or a touchdown record or even a yardage record but one record he has always wanted deep down to accomplish for himself. From the tiny town that he came from and the very school he grew up in, Mississippi Valley State officials announced that Jerry Rice had successfully completed course work, needed to obtain his degree in Health and Physical Education. The San Francisco star did the course work through correspondence courses and independent study.
“Earning my degree has proven to be as fulfilling as winning the Super Bowl,” Rice said. 'It took a lot of hard work and dedication, much like the effort I’ve put into training for football. I’m very proud of this achievement and I encourage others to finish school.”
Jerry Rice’s accomplishments are far too many to list and mention but I will look back on some he is without question the most phenomenal and most explosive athlete of all time.
With 14 NFL records, 12 Pro Bowl invitations and a spot on the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team he is the best player in the league not only on today but yesterday and tomorrow as well.
He has NFL career records in receptions (1,206), receiving yards (18,422). Total touchdowns (180), receiving touchdowns (169), most games with 100+ receiving yards (66), most 1,000-yard receiving seasons (12), most 100-catch seasons (4), most receiving yards in a single season (22), consecutive games with a touchdown (13), consecutive 100-catch seasons (3), most seasons with 50 or more receptions (13), longest consecutive games with a reception streak (209), and shares with Steve Young the standard for most touchdowns by a wide receiver-quarterback combo (85).
Jerry Rice never stops giving of himself as he is involved in countless charities and makes many visits to local communities and organizations to raise awareness to their causes. He is involved with March of Dimes, Packard Children’s Hospital, Nike Play Program, Team Up for Healthy Kids, United Negro College Fund, Aids Research, and his very own Jerry Rice “127” Foundation.
I am at a lost as to contemplate the eventual loss of Jerry Rice to this franchise, he is the last of the great warrior chiefs to wear their helmets in times of battle every time the 49er’s took to the field. He gave everything of himself to everyone and believed in the ultimate goal that was to promote the name of The San Francisco 49er’s.
I will miss him more than life itself because that is exactly what Jerry Rice is all about, he is about life and all the different milestones that come your way over the course of time. Many believe Jerry should hang up his cleats before it is too late and he makes a fool of himself. I am one that does not buy into the fool prognosis, I would love him to retire a 49er but I also realize the burning he has inside to play the game, and should he have the stamina and the health why not play God Bless Him.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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