by Trevor Freeman
I will never forget the time I met Jerry Rice. My third grade Parks & Recreation basketball team, the Our Lady of Loretto Panthers was going to face off with the Loma Verde Jammers at halftime of the Golden State Warriors game. Prior to our scheduled duel, my teammate Gary Swett decided to purchase a hot dog. While walking and eating it at the same time he ran smack dab into Jerry Rice. Immediately Gary came charging back to all of us and informed us that Jerry Rice was sitting not too far from our seats. This led all of us to walk over and stare at Jerry Rice (and Jeff Fuller as an added bonus). Jerry Rice could have had security remove all of us, but instead he graciously signed autographs and let every single member of our team try on his Super Bowl ring.
Why do I tell this story? Because Jerry Rice was a better person than he was a wide receiver and I am truly saddened by the retirement of this great warrior.
Everybody is going to focus in on how great a football player Jerry Rice was…….I think you can make an outstanding argument that he is the greatest player ever to toss on a pair of shoulder pads. Rice holds the record for most receptions, yards receiving, all-purpose yards, touchdown receptions and consecutive games with at least one catch. Jerry Rice was also a winner as evidenced by his three Super Bowl rings and Super Bowl MVP (I believe he had 11 catches for 215 yards in that tilt). However, I think somebody needs to write about how consummate a professional and how wonderful a human being Jerry Rice was, and that’s where I come in.
Jerry Rice taught a generation about the value of hard work. There is a reason why he played until he was in his 40s. That reason is because nobody kept himself in better shape. No team that ever had Rice on their roster got cheated and that’s something that is becoming increasingly rare at the wide receiver position. Other players use to speak about the hills Rice used to run in the offseason. About how they couldn’t believe how many miles Rice used to run to make sure he was in better shape than anyone else. However it wasn’t just conditioning that made Jerry Rice the best wide receiver to ever play the game of football. Much like another Bay Area legend in Bill Russell, Jerry Rice was known to prepare for his competition more diligently than everyone else. He knew the tendencies of the opposing cornerbacks covering him, better than those cornerbacks knew themselves.
Rice was one of those rare athletes who you can feel confident about making this comment. “If every athlete was like Jerry Rice, sports would be a far better place.” That is because Rice was one of sports’ great gentlemen. And I don’t just say that because he once signed a piece of paper for a little boy. From the time he worked a deal with Nike to supply Mississippi Valley State’s basketball team with new shoes to wear when they made the NCAA Tournament to his work with March of Dimes to his charity golf classic, Jerry Rice has always been somebody who gave back to the community.
Finally, Jerry Rice was a leader who never tooted his own horn. You never saw Jerry Rice showboat like a Terrell Owens or a Randy Moss. That is because Jerry Rice knew he was the best. And so did we. My old water polo coach always told us to, “Set an example that makes others wish that they could be on your team.” Jerry Rice did that for more than two decades. Rice put the professional in professional football player and for that this young autograph seeker at heart will always be grateful.
If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]