Jerry Rice saw the same clip everybody else did:
Brandon Marshall walking while his teammates ran.
Brandon Marshall punting a ball he should've handed to the ball boy.
Brandon Marshall dropping passes on purpose.
"That's something you don't do," Rice said Monday morning. "You don't drop footballs. What if your teammates see you do something like that?"
Suffice it to characterize Rice's reaction as offended disbelief.
"I never thought it would come to this," he said.
By "it," he means the state of wide receiver-dom, something he takes very seriously. "I don't think the love of the game is there anymore. It's all about me, me, me and getting that big payday ... Things have gotten out of hand with the wide receivers."
The position has a deserved reputation for having the flakiest, most selfish and egocentric players in all of American sports. And Marshall, whose antics earned him a suspension for the duration of the preseason, isn't even the latest in the parade that began more than a decade ago with Keyshawn "Gimme the Damn Ball" Johnson. Already, there are knuckleheads lined up to take his place, beginning with Michael Crabtree, who's still pissed off he wasn't picked in the top five.
"When I came in the league it was about earning your money, justifying your job," said Rice. "I always believed once you sign a contract, you're obligated to it. Or you work it out in-house. Michael Crabtree wants the money up front — before he ever puts on the uniform."
Don't mistake Rice's reservations for resentful ravings of a retired man. He's fully aware of, say, Larry Fitzgerald's old-school virtue. But he also knows that for every Larry Fitzgerald, there's a T.O. or an Ochocinco or a Plaxico, or, before his improbable second act with the Patriots, a Randy Moss. Wide receiver is the new reality show, a production infected with pathological narcissism.
"We're divas now," Rice said wistfully.
The NFL's all-time touchdown leader, Rice had 1,549 catches and 22,895 yards (almost 13 perilous miles by my calculation) spread over 20 seasons. While some players brag about their thousand-yard seasons, Rice got a thousand (in just 10 games) on Deion Sanders alone. Rice is more than the best receiver in history. Given the fact that Jim Brown played just nine seasons, he's arguably the best player.
That's not to say he couldn't be selfish. Or ego-driven. In fact, he had to be. They all do.
To do the job properly, one must reconcile himself with the certainty of the blindside hit, with the defender's intent to decapitate. You must need the ball, as the need has to outweigh any fear or doubt. (In that respect, I understand, even admire, Keyshawn's self-proclaimed ethos. I'll always give him that: he never cared about the hitter, only the ball).
"It takes a special man to tell himself, 'I'm going to catch this ball no matter what, no matter the guy trying to take my head off,' " said Rice. "You have to be willing to jeopardize your body. You have to want the football, and you have to want it when everything is on the line. Like Michael Jordan in basketball. A receiver has got to be like that.
"You have to be selfish."
The issue, then, is the expression of that selfishness. "I demanded the ball in game situations," recalled Rice. "But I didn't tell Joe Montana or Steve Young to throw me the ball. They could tell just from my body language. You don't distract the team."
You don't drop passes in practice. You don't embarrass yourself. And that's what so many of these guys have become: embarrassments.
The Brandon Marshall case seems particularly galling to Rice. He saw Marshall up close, just a couple of months ago at Fitzgerald's training camp for receivers in Minnesota.
"I didn't realize the kid was that big," said Rice. "And unbelievably talented."
Rice had a little aptitude for the position as well. But the greatest component of his talent — like Jordan's — was the ability to work harder, longer and more precisely than the other talented guys.
Not impressed: Brandon Marshall acts like he's the next Jerry Rice. And he's not the only WR doing so. The legend himself hates it. Tweet for help: Michael Beasley showed off his new tat on Twitter — and also revealed some inner demons. I've seen enough. Dirty shame: Memphis didn't make a Final 4? Or win 38 games? The NCAA is a joke yet again and John Calipari's the one laughing.
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"It was all about technique to me," he recalled. "You don't see that anymore at the wide receiver position."
Such insistence on technique was partly born of necessity. In 1985, when Rice was a rookie, defensive backs were still allowed to manhandle receivers, bumping and chucking them all over the field.
Perhaps the new generation of receivers have been emboldened by the rules. I wonder if they'd talk so much if they were hit like, say, running backs?
Rice considered the question, but only for a moment. "Nah," he said. "Guys like Ocho and Terrell Owens still would've been the same."
And here, Rice finally seized on an explanation, or at least the beginnings of one. Perhaps it's not the players who have changed so much as the coaches who've indulged their expensive vanities.
Brandon Marshall, he figures, wouldn't have dared to drop balls under Bill Walsh.
There'd be no suspension, said Rice. "He'd have been on the first Greyhound home."