“This is finally it. There are no more routes to run, no more touchdowns to score, no more records to set. That young boy from Mississippi has finally stopped running.”
On Saturday evening Jerry Rice one of the greatest 49ers of all-time, and probably one of the best NFL players of all-time, was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame after a 20-year career. It is no surprise Rice was inducted in his first year of eligibility after setting records for passes caught (1,549), receiving yards (22,895), most consecutive games with a reception (274), and touchdown receptions (208) to name a few. Playing for the 49ers, Raiders and Seahawks Rice was selected to 13 Pro Bowls, made 10 All-Pro teams and won three Super Bowls. When Bill Walsh selected Rice out of Mississippi Valley State he was relatively unknown. Even still many teams took notice of Rice and his 1984 record breaking year at MVS. Teams wanted him but his lack of speed scared them off. Not Walsh. He moved the 49ers up to pick number 16 in the draft to select Rice. It is said that the Cowboys who had the 17th pick were going to draft Rice. Could you imagine Rice in a Cowboys uniform? I almost threw up typing that.
“I was afraid to fail. The fear of failure is the engine that has driven me my entire life. The reason they never caught me from behind is because I ran scared. People always are surprised how insecure I was. The doubts, the struggles, is who I am. I wonder if I would have been as successful without them.”
Although I grew up in Orange County, CA I have been a 49ers fan from as young as I can remember. I was born in 1982 and Rice’s NFL career was born in 1985. Growing up Rice was my idol. I was fortunate to watch Rice in action almost every year as the Rams played in Anaheim Stadium in Orange County against the 49ers once a year. Watching Rice live in action was a different story than watching him on T.V. One game that stands out in my mind when I was in attendance was his one handed catch down the sidelines just beating the Rams secondary as he ran into the end zone for a touchdown. At that moment everyone in the stadium cheered at what they saw regardless of the team colors they were wearing. My favorite moment watching Rice on T.V. was when he broke the touchdown record in 1994 on Monday Night Football against the Los Angeles Raiders. Rice was two touchdowns away from the record before the game. I remember watching his first TD and thinking tonight is the night he breaks the record. No waiting until next week. After Rice caught a pass from Steve Young over the middle as he ran into the end zone I remember his arms reaching into the air making a V as if to say ‘I did it, I am the NFL’s all-time leader in touchdowns.’ I still have the Los Angeles Times cut out of Rice breaking the record, with his arms in the air.
Looking back at what I admired the most about Rice was not the three Super Bowl rings he won for the 49ers, the incredible catches or his amazing work ethic. It was how Rice carried himself off the field with humbleness and professionalism and how he became the prime example of how all NFL players should act. There have been numerous wide receivers since Rice that have been called the next Jerry Rice but there are always a few things missing, the durability, the professionalism, the work ethic, the dedication etc. The comparisons need to stop. There will never be anyone like Jerry Rice at wide receiver and dominate their position like he did ever again. Rice set the bar so high that it is almost as if his career is fiction, something so extraordinary that is almost too good to be true.