In 2010, NFL.com named San Francisco 49’ers wide receiver, Jerry Rice, the greatest of all time (The GOAT). His records, which include the most receptions, most yards, and most touchdowns, are seemingly unbreakable. However, when asked if he believes he’s the GOAT, he says, “Yeah, you know, when I hear that, I cringe just a little bit, because I never really felt like I was the greatest of all time.” A naturally good-humored guy, with a gift for storytelling, he explains, “I was not the most gifted athlete, but I had heart, and I was going to outwork you. I think that work ethic took me a long, long way.” Rice continues, “I think I got my work ethic from my parents. My father was a bricklayer and he would take me to work with him during the summer. It’s very difficult work and I had responsibility, and if I didn’t do what I was supposed to do? In Mississippi we got punished in a different way.” With a laugh, he adds, “I didn’t really want to get punished that way, so I did what I had to do.”
In order to understand the type of NFL legacy Rice created, you need to look to other athletes who have played in the NFL. The very first requirement to setting all time records is time. NFL football is a notoriously brutal game where the average career length is just 40 games. Until this season, Rice had played in more games than anyone who wasn’t a kicker in the history of the sport. Even QB Brett Favre, long considered the NFL’s Ironman for having played 297 games in a row, and 302 overall, still comes up one game shy of Rice’s 303. The only player with more games is QB Tom Brady. If he remains healthy, by the end of the 2021 regular season, he will have 318. While rice’s unusual longevity is not exactly a record, it does provide the context for Rice’s amazing on field accomplishments. For example, his NFL records of 1549 receptions, 22,895 yards, and 208 TD’s, averages out to a remarkable 77 receptions, 1145 yards, and 10.4 TD’s per season. Many of today’s most outstanding players will break that average for a season, or maybe even for an extended amount of time, perhaps even a decade. However, no wideout in NFL history has come close to that level of consistency over that length of time. The nearest player on the list is Arizona Cardinals future Hall of Famer, Larry Fitzgerald with 263. While Fitzgerald hasn’t officially announced his retirement from the game, he did not return for an 18th season. Just to reach the pros, athletes must possess the talent, and the drive to get there. Staying there, well that’s another thing. Rice says, “When guys are gifted, sometimes they have the tendency to get complacent a little bit.
I felt like I had never really arrived, and so I continued to work hard during practice. My thing is, I have always been about motivating people, so I set an example for my teammates. Once you’ve set that example, guys look for you to be productive on the football field, and to lead them.” After earning his way into the Pro Bowl eleven times in his first 12 seasons, as well as being first team All-Pro for ten of those seasons, and Superbowl XXIII MVP, says, “I had teammates who would come to me, and they would say, hey Jerry, why are you still working so hard? You’re the GOAT man; you don’t have to do this anymore. But I felt like there was more that I needed to do, so I kept pushing myself. I never wanted to let the fans down, I never wanted to let the coaches down, and I never wanted to let my family down in Mississippi, so the fire just kept burning.”wanted to let my family down in Mississippi, so the fire just kept burning.”
Coming up next July for Rice, and Reno, will be the American Century Golf Championship at The Edgewood Tahoe Resort. Rice will once again hit the links with well known players from every sport, household name celebrities, and even politicians. He was even once paired with former President Donald Trump, he says, “that was his first time he (President Trump) ever played in American Century.” He continues, “He wanted to play with me because he felt it would be more comfortable, so I had to lead him around the golf course, show him the in’s and out’s,” With amusement he adds, “I never thought he would become President of the United States of America!”
While Covid19 didn’t cancel the 2020 tournament, Jerry says, “It was weird because there were no fans. (But now) Everyone is getting their shots, and we’re starting to try and work our way out of this.” Rice continues, “Lake Tahoe is owned by the fans; they came out, and really supported the tournament. This year, we had an opportunity where we could either sign something for them, or take pictures with them, and just give something back. But last year (2020), it was eery just a bit. One of the reasons he loves the tournament is because, “the fans come out and they support you, and it’s almost like saying a thank you for all the support they’ve given me throughout my career.” Considering how competitive he is, you have to wonder if he practices for the tournament? “You know, I’m trying, but golf is one of those games you can’t master. You think you’ve got it; you might go low; you see what you’ve scored, and you think, you know what, I got this, this is easy now, but the next day it’s like speaking a different language. It's the most frustrating game ever. Also, you’ve got to look at it like this, if I drop a pass from Montana, or Steve Young, I can say it was a bad pass. In golf, you can’t blame anyone. You’re just on your own.”
Asked how he came to love golf, he replies, “I’m going to give you a little insight into what got me started. I was out training with my trainer one day, I think it was 1986, and we were getting ready to do some track work, then we were going to do some field work, you know, running routes, catching the ball and all of that. He brought a golf club and a couple of balls, and I don’t know why he brought it out to that work out, but I tried to hit the golf ball, and I didn’t hit it, and I’m thinking hey look, I’m supposed to be this elite athlete, and you’re going to tell me I can’t hit a stationary ball right there out in front of me? So that’s how I got into it.” Noted sports writer and author John Feinstien wrote a book about golf called, A Good Walk Spoiled. Among other things, he addresses how people become obsessed with the game. Jerry continues, “Once I got into it, I got addicted to it. Because my meeting (with the 49’ers coaching staff) would start in the morning around 8:30, I would head to the range around 5 something and practice my game. I’d go to my meeting; I'd practice football, and when football was all done by 4:30, I’d go back to the range, and work on my game. I did that throughout my career.” What would drive anyone to play in the NFL at the absolute highest individual athletic level, while also playing golf several hours everyday? He says it’s all about the competition, “I feel like it’s the greatest game ever, and when you go out there you can always compete. You can always compete against the course. You can compete against just yourself, and you don’t have to have anyone playing with you, and there’s still competition, but it can be really frustrating to me.”
Rice’s work ethic is the stuff of NFL legend, but at 58, Rice is still in remarkable shape. When he was in the league, regularly putting up hall of fame stats, along with his daily golf playing, and football practice, he would head to Edgewood Park near his home and run up an incline now known to locals as, Jerry Rice Hill. He says, ” The hill is around two and half miles long, and the last eight hundred yard is straight up hill. A lot of guys (including New England Patriots future Hall of Famer Julian Edelman) would throw up on that last 800. That was part of my regimen three days, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and it was more for endurance. I think that is the reason why, like in the 4th quarter, I was always at my best.” His marathon-like endurance was something that not only motivated his teammates, but may have been something that intimidated his opponents? He replies, "Yeah. That's it. I’m bouncing around, and they’re looking at me like I’m crazy. They’re like, how can that guy still have all of that energy? But it was about the way I trained.” Elaborating, he says, “Okay, this is how strange I was. If I went to the stadium, and I had a target weight of, say I was 189, that was my target weight, that’s where I wanted to be when I stepped on the football field. If I went there and I was 192, and we had a game that day, I would go to the stadium early, weigh myself, and if I’m a couple of pounds over, I would work out before the actual game.
So when my teammates would get to the stadium, they would look at me and be like Jerry, what are you doing? I’m soaking wet; I'm sweating like crazy, but I just had to lose those extra pounds to get down to the weight I wanted to be at. Then I felt like I was ready to go. Then I’d go out there, and I’d play the entire game, and I’m not tired. So everything about me was about my conditioning, and I think that’s why I was able to play football for over 20 years.”
His famous work ethic, which drove him to NFL excellence, also helped him weather the Covid 19 pandemic. Things became real for many Americans, when the NBA canceled the 2020 basketball season. He says, “I remember looking at that, and they had some teams that were getting ready to play. They were warming up; they were getting ready, and then all of a sudden; it was over. They pulled them off the court and I was like oh my God; this thing is really, really serious.” When the plague hit, Rice had just married his longtime girlfriend.
Latisha Pelayo. He says, “My wife and I, we had just gotten married, and so this was really gonna test us! If we’re able to survive this, we’re gonna be together for the rest of our lives.” To remain in shape during the lockdown, Rice began working out on a Pellaton. His wife is also known to be a workout warrior, and when asked if they fought over the exercise bike, Rice says, “No, you know what, you know what? How I dealt with that, I bought two. She has her own, and I got my own!” While Rice may cringe when someone asks him if he believes he’s the GOAT, in 2010 NFL.com said he was. Today there’s little doubt he’s still as motivated and competitive as ever, but is he the greatest player of all time? Everyone has an opinion about that, but one thing’s for sure, even in today’s pass-happy NFL, it is unlikely anyone will eclipse the records, and reputation, of Jerry Rice.
For more on Jerry Rice visit www.jerryricefootball.com