Retired San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame Wide Receiver Jerry Rice holds so many American Football records that perhaps the news that he has another achievement to add to his remarkable list will hold little resonance with the man himself. Yet, to be chosen No.1 in the NFL Network’s list of the top 100 NFL players of all time – as Rice was on November 4th – truly re-affirms his place as one of the greatest to have ever played the game.
Born and raised in Mississippi, Jerry Lee Rice developed his amazing ability to catch a football by catching bricks when working with his father (a bricklayer). From a young age there were also indications that Rice had the potential to become a serious threat as an American footballer. Standout seasons with the Mississippi Valley State University, in particular in 1984, earned him the nickname ‘World’ (as there wasn’t a ball in the World that he couldn’t catch) and brought him to the attention of NFL teams. Nevertheless, the road to the NFL was not entirely smooth. Scouts held reservations about Rice’s speed (or rather lack of it) due to his sub-par 40 yard dash time which was reportedly 4.71 seconds – particularly slow for a wide receiver. The San Francisco 49ers though saw him as a potential star and gambled by selecting him as the 16th overall draft pick.
From then on, Rice never looked back. In a career spanning two decades Rice played for the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks, but it is as a member of the 49ers that he will always be remembered. He played for the team for 16 seasons, winning 3 Super Bowl rings and twice becoming the NFL Offensive Player of the Year. However, what makes Rice stand out among his peers is his longevity and consistency. He played in 189 consecutive games for the 49ers until he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. In a position where players are extremely susceptible to niggling injuries Rice remained unaffected, churning out touchdowns and match-winning performances.
Rice is so far ahead of all other receivers in terms of statistics that his records may arguably never be broken. With 22,895 receiving yards he is over 7,000 yards ahead of the next highest receiver, current Cincinnati Bengals player Terrell Owens, who would have to continue playing well into his forties to have any chance of surpassing Rice. Rice also holds the record for the highest number of touchdowns in history with 207, over 30 more than his nearest rival. Furthermore, in a notoriously competitive position he went to the Pro Bowl a staggering 13 times. Rice was also no flat-track bully; the bigger the occasion, the better his performances and he was Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XXIII.
Once Rice’s productivity appeared to wane he was released by the 49ers. However, his career did not end there. At 40 years old he once again went to the Super Bowl and became the oldest player ever to catch a touchdown pass in the championship game. A wide receiver is very much dependent on his athleticism and it is a testament to Rice that he could still do that in his fourth decade.
2010 has seen Jerry Rice being inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and now has seen him named as the greatest ever player. To be named above some of the games greats like Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor is an honour and for Rice it is one that his performances have deserved.