Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice knows a thing or two about being the best at something.
We could go into the accolades and the records. We could look back at the highlight reels over his storied career.
We could even line up all the best receivers before and since and come away knowing that Rice was in a class of his own.
He was the best.
Rice was not just the best because he had raw, natural talent. He was the best because he was willing to put in the immense work required to dominate his position.
That work ethic and Rice's drive to succeed carried over into one of the NFL's greatest lasting legacies.
But the story does not end there.
When this author sat down to watch his feature on NFL Network's A Football Life, perhaps the most lasting impression was how Rice would stop at nothing to continue improving his game.
His NFL career over, Rice continues to carry the same mindset that helped him achieve so much during his professional career.
Now, Rice has paired up with former San Francisco 49ers teammates Steve Young and Deion Sanders to promote Van Heusen's Institute of Style—a movement dedicated to providing young men with the confidence associated with smart and stylish fashion statements.
As a "Professor of Style," Rice is out spreading the word about this campaign and what it means to him.
"For me, I am continuing to live the dream," Rice noted during our sit-down chat. "It's great to have continued involvement in the community."
As the Institute of Style grows, Rice hopes the organization can continue to give people the opportunity to succeed by the way they dress and look.
Yet Rice's success story goes far beyond his current affiliation with Van Heusen.
Any football fan can recall some of his great moments, but when asked what the biggest under-the-radar achievement of his career was, Rice had a couple that stood out.
Fellow wideout John Taylor was perhaps the biggest storyline during the 49ers' come-from-behind victory against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday, December 11, 1989—posting 11 receptions for 286 yards and two touchdowns during the game.
Yet those two touchdowns were assisted by Rice, who provided key blocks as Taylor knocked home 92- and 96-yard receptions, putting the 49ers in a position to win the game on Monday Night Football.
Taylor later noted via James Weiner of ABC Sports Online (h/t ESPN), "A lot of people think a good wide receiver such as Jerry is just a good receiver. But both of us just love to block, too."
The other memorable achievement that never received quite the attention was how Rice came back after suffering a debilitating ACL and MCL injury in his left knee in 1997 that should have ended his season.
It didn't, and Rice was able to return in Week 15.
Without Rice's work ethic and fortitude, he never would have been the receiver we all know.
When asked what it took to become the greatest receiver of all time, Rice responded, "Work ethic and always giving 100 percent. [I] didn't want to look back and regret not giving everything."
His life now shifted from the playing field and into other ventures, Rice can now offer his direct insights on how the current San Francisco 49ers franchise can build and develop their ongoing success.
If there is one shortcoming in the 49ers offense, it would be the element Rice knows best—wide receiver.
San Francisco's passing offense ranked No. 30 in the NFL in 2013 with 2,979 yards—numbers that stand in stark contrast compared to the lofty stats Rice and Co. put up in the 49ers' glory years.
Still, Rice feels as if there are good fortunes on the horizon, but that does not mean the 49ers can sit tight on what they have.
"They need a speed guy," Rice commented when asked about the upcoming 2014 NFL draft. "[Michael] Crabtree and [Anquan] Boldin are good and Vernon [Davis] is a beast. Brandon Lloyd can help too, but they still need speed."
Following up, this author asked Rice if the addition of another wide receiver would entice the 49ers offense to utilize more three-wide receiver sets this upcoming season, to which Rice thought it possible.
He did admit though that he was a little biased towards the passing game.
Perhaps the greatest insight Rice provided was directed not towards the 49ers, but rather towards young people aspiring to achieve.
"You're going to hear a lot of people say you can't. The reality is you can," Rice commented. "You need to seize that opportunity because you only have one shot. You only live once. Look at me—a country boy from Mississippi and look at what I've been able to do."
Perhaps all of us—no matter if we are NFL athletes, students, writers or blue-collar workers—can learn from this golden lesson.
A lesson from the best.
For more information of Van Heusen's Institute of Style, please visit www.vanheusen.com.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.
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