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Jerry Rice, the true definition of a 49er, nears the end

Dec 16, 2000 at 12:00 AM

He never knew what the word quitting meant and probably never will because the greatest wide receiver of all time is not done yet, he has more records to extend and break and more than enough health and stamina to get the job done.

Jerry Rice to me is the very definition of a super-human athlete he is so disciplined and well sculptured in every facet of his physical and mental being that all in The National Football League from present to past acknowledge his true character and endurance.

I have witnessed Jerry from his very beginnings being the first-round pick by The San Francisco 49er’s back in 1985 he has not played anywhere else, the very thought of his playing anywhere else has never really crossed his mind for 3-Com has always been his home and will continue to be even after all is said and done.

The 16-year veteran of many brutal battles in the 49er quest for glory would have probably never happened without him, he was a defining weapon in each and every regular season game victory and very influential in sustaining playoff drives all the way to the Superbowl.

I have and many others do the highest respect and honor for this unbelievable athlete he has entertained me and enlightened me with his approach to a game and the way he performs in one. He is a distinct and team-oriented player he keeps his focus on the ultimate goal and that is to win at all costs.

His relationships with superstars themselves Joe Montana and Steve Young are as solid as granite as he was a connection and a bond that both these quarterbacks had the honor to find and throw to on countless offensive plays.

The sideline moments are what I remember also as cameras were always focused after plays usually touchdowns as Rice and quarterback would sit or stand next to each other and reflect on what had just happened.

Number Eighty inspires me to new heights when I think of football and really miss that vision when the season draws to a close and are left with a void from February to August in the long anticipated wait for the season to begin again.

Jerry Rice is what a 49er is all about and when all was said and done especially after the retirement ceremony of Quarterback Steve Young. Jerry reflected with Steve and acknowledged that someday soon he to would be standing and announcing his retirement in the presence of all his teammates, family and fans.

Jerry was asked in one game that I distinctly remember and that is when a sideline reporter asked him “Why did you stay a 49er as this team is basically nothing more then another expansion team in the midst of rebuilding.” Jerry responded. “Because I’m not a quitter someone had to stay behind and teach these young athletes the 49er way.”

I have so much respect for someone who is as elite as Jerry really is to remain a role-model for other athletes to follow and learn from, his countless hours of preparation for a game the rigorous drills and marathon obstacle courses he subjects his body to is unbelievable.

Jerry Rice has carried the 49er torch for many years and into the new millennium however that is quickly coming to a head as the 49er’s have fallen from grace in more ways then one. The salary cap has bled the franchise right down to the very marrow of the bone.

Cuts are in order once again for many veteran players that command a substantial part of the payroll and Jerry of course is one of those that fall into that unfortunate category now so more then ever.

Rice has a projected cap figure of $4.2 million next season. The cap-strangled 49er’s, who are already $11 million over next season’s projected limit, could gain $1.5 million in payroll relief by letting Rice go after June 1st. The savings would escalate to $2.5 million if Rice forfeits his retirement bonus and plays elsewhere, as he said he’d do.

Rice’s agent, Jim Steiner, said he plans to meet with 49er’s management soon after the season. He said if Rice isn’t in their plans, he expects the team to give him permission to talk to other clubs so he can make arrangements in a timely fashion for Rice to continue his career elsewhere.

Before any signing with another team though would have to wait until after Rice’s formal separation from the 49er’s. The 49er’s can’t afford to let him go before June 1st because of cap rules that would force the 49er’s to take a $5.1 million hit.

Bill Walsh, the 49er’s general manager, and John McVay, the director of football operations, said last month the decision is up to Rice. The true deciding factor could be money; Rice signed a five-year, $31.3 million contract extension in June and is slated to earn $2.75 million next year.

Asked if he envisions Rice leaving, 49er’s coach Steve Mariucci said: “I try not to think of that, We’ll have to wait and see where it goes.”

In following Week 15 The San Francisco 49er’s beat The San Diego Chargers 45-17 he received an unbelievable standing ovation from the many fans even away from home, he was clearly touched by the recognition he received and reflected on how fortunate he felt in being a 49er.

“A lot is going to play a factor-the salary cap and the young guys they want to get on the field,” said Rice, who earned a rousing ovation after catching two touchdown passes in the 49er victory over the Chargers. “Would I like to come back next year? Yeah, I would. But because of what’s going on, It might not happen.”

Hopefully in the next few months a verdict on his fate will transpire at least Rice hopes for that. “Right now, everything’s up for grabs,” said Jerry.

Jerry Rice has made it very clear to everyone that his career is not over, even though many of us hold the thought of Jerry retiring a 49er the same way that Steve Young did that reality is far fetched and very unlikely. Even myself included in that majority feels Jerry should end his career a 49er I have a hard time grasping onto any other thought.

But Jerry Rice is entitled to end his career the way he seems fit to, I honor that and acknowledge that with the highest regard, I will always be a Jerry Rice fan regardless of anywhere he may have to go to finish his illustrious career.

Giving up a one million retiring bonus as a 49er means absolutely nothing to someone of Jerry Rice’s stature. “Right now, a million dollars couldn’t buy me,” Rice said. “I would walk away from that in a second.”

“That’s not going to work. Money couldn’t buy the enjoyment I get out of football. My mind is already made up. I’m playing and that’s the bottom line. They have to do what they have to do. Everything comes to an end. I have great memories here. If it doesn’t work out, there’s not going to be any animosity; it’s just move on.”

The San Francisco 49er’s in the midst of a rebuilding syndrome have veterans targeted as prospected cuts, Jerry seems in my mind and most others a highly likely scenario. Our defense has made revolutionary milestones in its development as a whole over this current season; we will without question build on that leaving the offense as a second priority.

We are deep in the receiver pool as Jerry is the number two receivers just behind Terrell Owens on the starting chart; Owens has had a spectacular year making his position all very secure.

Fighting for more playing time and making appeals to the front office for it has been wide receiver J.J. Stokes whom has made some positive contributions in several games when given the opportunity.

Stokes is someone I have campaigned for in a sense because we need to see what our investment can yield from this seldom used weapon, Rice has always been able to diminish his activity on the field in staying healthy and making big plays.

Stokes however deserves his time in the spotlight, the controversy is that Second-year wide receiver Tai Streets has been equally if not more reliable then Stokes in the 49er passing attack and has some pushing to have him at the second tier receiver position over Stokes.

I honestly believe Stokes can succeed if he is made to believe that we do have confidence in his natural athletic abilities, this alone will give him the practical confidence that we have not given to him with Rice taking on the majority of time and making plays.

Jerry Rice has more then earned his position and so much more as a 49er as he has made 12 Pro Bowl appearances while setting 14 NFL records including receptions (1,262), receiving yards (19,048) touchdowns (187) and receiving touchdowns (176).

“But I still feel like I can play so why not? Just because we’re not on top anymore, should I throw in the towel and give up something that I love and know I can still do? No.”

It seems as the end of the season is drawing near the 49er front office looks at the situation as a double-edged sword, Knowing many fans will resent seeing Rice go and the fact that Rice’s value in cap savings over-rides his value on the playing field.

General Manager Bill Walsh said considerable financial obstacles stand in the way of Rice’s return. “We can’t rule it out, but, boy, it would be hard because of the salary cap.” Walsh said.

Even the relationship between Quarterback Jeff Garcia and Jerry Rice has matured into something special, which was suspect because Jerry was so used to the mechanics and body language of Steve Young for so long. So many adjustments had to have been made for these two to establish some kind of rhythm.

“I pretty much think of that situation in a denial type of way,” Garcia said. “I’d like to think that he still has it in him to be back with the team next year. But I realize that’s a situation he has to deal with and it’s not going to be an easy one for him. Obviously, he still contributes and he’s one of the major leaders of this team.”

Garcia has also said that all 49er fans should relish and cherish these last few games as the 2000 season winds down to a close for the likelihood of Jerry wearing a 49er jersey next year is slim pickings at best.

I acknowledge that and specifically urge all 49er faithful to really look at these last few games and really see what Jerry is really all about. He has demonstrated a leadership by example for many years; he has even spoken out to the front office about getting the younger receivers out on the field more often.

Jerry has even gone to great lengths not only to tutor the young receivers on the staff but also has been instrumental in teaching our young cornerbacks how to defend against receivers like himself by running with them side by side and teaching them what to anticipate.

Maybe Jerry has lost a step or two but he damn well still possess the speed and agility to hold up under any given situation or condition, his own personnel accomplishments in his conditioning marathons and drive for excellence set him apart from everyone else.

As the final home game approaches for the season against the Chicago Bears Jerry knows deep in his mind what this game is all about, probably the last pre-game workout he will ever have on 3-com turf ever again, the finality of it all has to be unreal.

Jerry Rice at 38 years old and a participant and winner of three Super Bowl titles knows this could well be the final conclusion of his spectacular career here in San Francisco. In a meaningless game looked at by all sports broadcasters and betting arenas this game holds special value to an athlete that helped bring glory and prestige to a community and a nation.

“I’m pretty much at ease with whatever happens. Basically I can’t dwell on it, what’s going to happen. But I know I plan on playing when the season’s over, somewhere. I don’t know exactly where, but somewhere,” Rice said.

“It’s scary. But something’s going to work out. If it doesn’t here, something is going to work out where I’ll go somewhere else. But this will always be my home; this is where I started.”

Jerry has seen some of his most beloved teammates and friends leave San Francisco for the same reasons he is in right now, it has made it that much more easier for him to bear this reality. How unfortunate in all the senses does this have to be this is the ugly of having a salary cap in this league?

“I knew eventually it was going to happen. It happened with Montana; it happened with Lott. And this team is going in a different direction now. There are a lot of younger guys, and the first guys to go are the older guys.”

“I feel like I’ve had time to prepare myself for it. I’m not saying it’s not going to be a big shock; it’s going to be devastating. But at least I had a chance to watch those guys go through it, so I know what to expect.”

Back when Quarterback Steve Young was mulling the very fact as to what he was going to do, possibly play quarterback for the Denver Bronco’s. Steve could not bring himself to imagine wearing any other uniform besides a 49er one.

Jerry does not share that sentiment. “I think I’ll have trouble with it, but it’s still a passion for me.” He said. “So sometimes you have to do things that are basically in your best interest. If it comes down to (playing elsewhere). I’ll have to do that.”

Even as he discusses his departure he looks at his receiving teammates as having opportunities with him gone, their young legs constantly remind him of his old ones, and of the three knee surgeries he has had to go through.

This is what separates Jerry from so many other athletes is his compassion and integrity for not only the game but for his teammates as well. His desire and unbridled passion to make the fans proud of him drives him onward.

The rebuilding season has left some painful and satisfying moments for Jerry to reflect on and he to have to deal with emotions that have bubbled to the surface in so many given situations. “We’ve had some flashes, man. And that game) last Sunday). Oh my God,” Rice said of the 49er’s 31-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints. “After that ballgame, I was just sick to death.”

The game simply inspired him to yearn for me, for there is a fire burning inside Jerry that no one knows about other then retired athletes can relate to and their agonizing reality of the closeness they come to when it’s the end.

“I think if I was to a point where I felt like it was the end, I would have just blown it off. But I couldn’t sleep (last Sunday) night. I didn’t get much rest. And that’s just because I still love it.”

It is so easy for us to sit back and project what we believe Jerry should or should not do, however this has to come from his own-self right from his own heart and soul he has to make those decisions for himself.

The very reality of the old regime vanishing away with the close of the 2000 season is very real to me, soon there will be no artifacts left physically in personnel to look back on and remember the glory years that this franchise has been through.

The team is moving into a regeneration of youth and speed two ingredients very necessary for us to be competitive again in this ever-changing league of ours. It is without question that Jerry Rice is the final element of this old regime and his departure will signal a changing of the guard.

This game against Chicago will be full of excitement and anticipation as Jerry’s eldest child, daughter Jaqui, 13 will sing the national anthem before Sunday’s game. It is without a doubt one very emotional roller coaster in all the Rice family abroad as they witness the ending of an era.

“There are some personnel things I need to fulfill before I walk away from this game. I don’t know what that is, but I think one thing is that basically I can still go out, and I can perform at a level where I can be an impact player, and do all of that,” he said.

49er receiver Terrell Owens also has become close to the legend and had some comments as to that fact. “With all the speculating, I’m trying to prepare myself for (Sunday’s game) to be almost like a farewell (for Rice),” Owens said. “I’ve been out there just laughing and talking and trying to enjoy him while he’s here.”

“If that’s the case, that he’s not going to be here, I can honestly say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve learned a lot and definitely a percentage of my success can be attributed to him. He was my idol.”

I cannot even begin to tell you what I feel about this incredible person there are not enough words, even though I have made it clear that he is the greatest receiver ever to play the game. I cannot help but reaffirm that to everyone.

No one knows for sure where exactly Jerry Rice will go or that the possibility exists though so remote that he will remain here. But we all understand and realize that wherever he goes I will look for him in any given uniform and cheer him onward in his quest for finality in his career.

“The only thing we need to know for sure is we are really enjoying Jerry’s presence on this football team after 16 great years,” 49er’s coach Steve Mariucci said. “I’m just trying to enjoy every minute of it because I’m not sure where it’s going to go.”

I can relate to Mariucci’s comments and so many more, I acknowledge the fact it is time for our young receivers to make bigger contributions to our games, but at the same time I wish there was a way we could have Jerry back even in a diminished role.

However Jerry wants more then just a diminished role he has said he is still a impact player and that he can still be a prime factor in any given situation, with that I believe he is most definitely.

Jerry Rice is still that incredible athlete that can beat all the odds and still come out shining in more different faces then we care to imagine. He will in all senses be wearing a different uniform maybe even being our adversary in a game in 2001.

It does not matter he is worth the 49er recognition of profound excellence in the highest degree, we owe that to him in all aspects of the game and then some. I salute you Jerry for all that you are and what you stand for and what you want to achieve in life. Thank-You so much for all the memories you will continue to give others and me.

The opinions 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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