If you’re lucky in a lifetime of watching professional sports you will have the pleasure of seeing certain athletes that redefine a game, a position and a style of professionalism that cannot be matched. For me, as a long time sports enthusiast that started for me for football in 1985 the year the San Francisco 49ers, who traded up to the 16th spot in the draft took Mississippi Valley State wide receiver Jerry Rice. The rest is history, and a long list of history at that.
In today’s NFL the word “receiver” is often linked to the word “diva”. It is more of a custom to talk a lot about your play, then try and make it happen on the field. For Rice it was simply the opposite. Never self-promoting, never overly-flashy with words, just a man in a red jersey, with his signature number 80, making catches, scoring TDs, and rewriting the record books unlike any NFL player ever did, and perhaps ever will.
Jerry Rice, who earned the nickname “World” in college, due to the fact that “there was not a ball in the world he could not catch” not only did it in the games, but off the field where his off-season workouts had become legendary, and myths of the types of things Rice would do to train grew every season. “I heard Rice would climb Mt. Everest in just sweats and sneakers” or “I heard Rice would outrun trains while warming up for the season”. His legends had become football equals of Chuck Norris. His work ethic made him one of the most respected players in the game.
I could go on all day and list the countless records that Rice has set, or go on about 13 pro-bowls, 11 All-Pro selections and on and on, but the purpose here is just to celebrate the legend that he was. A man who had an infectious smile, the guy everyone wanted to be like, the man every player wanted to play with. He even made his stint on “Dancing With The Stars” look easy. You get the feeling there is nothing he can’t do.
So this past weekend Rice took his well-anticipated spot in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame, and through the speech, with moments of tears, the football world fell in love with him once again. Yes he spent some time in Oakland and Seattle, but he will always be San Francisco 49er. It is hard to imagine anyone else who can possibly meet the standard he has set, the records or the pure persona that Rice gave us.
Basically in short I feel like the luckiest football fan in the world to say I was around to witness the magic of the greatest ever to play the game. The NFL sure could use another number 80 like this, but it is hard to imagine ever finding one. Thank you Jerry Rice.
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