On February 7 2010, the world of professional football received perhaps the least surprising bit of news in the history of the game: Jerry Rice had been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In what may have been the least debated and most deserving selection in Hall of Fame history, the selection committee chose Jerry Rice for enshrinement, along with contemporary and bitter rival Emmitt Smith, each in his first year of eligibility.
This was but the final, official coronation of a career journey that everyone knew would end with a bronze bust in Canton, OH.
For 20 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, and Seattle Seahawks, Jerry Rice rewrote the NFL record books and set the standard for what it means to be an NFL wide receiver.
He set records which may never be eclipsed—even if the NFL expands to an 18-game regular season—including 1,549 receptions, 22,895 receiving yards, and 208 total touchdowns (197 receiving). He won three Super Bowls, making key contributions in all of them, and went to a fourth after leaving San Francisco for Oakland.
He was a true professional, a fantastic teammate, a physical freak, with a training regiment and work ethic which helped him produce unparalleled longevity and success. Legendary Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young both credit Rice with elevating their games and helping make them who they were.
Some would say he is the greatest NFL player (at any position) of all time.
Rice will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame mere days from now on August 7 2010. He will be enshrined into the 49ers Hall of Fame and have his No. 80 retired by the team during half time of a Monday Night matchup against the defending World Champion New Orleans Saints on September 20 2010.
In light of these momentous occasions, here is a look back at the top 15 moments in the incredible career of Jerry Rice:
Jerry Rice had a college career which drew much attention, but also much skepticism.
A native of Mississppi, Rice attended the small Mississippi Valley State University of what was then known as the NCAA’s Division 1AA of college football. Playing against what was viewed as sub-standard competition, Rice put up record-breaking numbers.
He finished with career records in catches, yards, and touchdowns, drawing immense attention by putting up 27 touchdown catches in his senior season of 1984, a record for all NCAA divisions. However, the buzz around him quickly soured when his pre-draft workouts failed to impress most scouts.
Following a 4.71-second 40-yard dash time, rumors began circulating that Rice was too slow and too small to compete at the NFL level. Many saw his statistics in college as the anomalous result of an average D-1A receiver playing at the D-1AA level.
The 49ers and Dallas Cowboys were more optimistic about his chances, however, and both sought to land Jerry Rice in the draft. Bill Walsh thought so highly of Rice that he traded up from the last pick in the first round to No. 16 overall, one spot ahead Dallas.
He used the pick to make Jerry Rice a first-round draft choice, much to the surprise of many NFL experts.
In the first game of his NFL career, Jerry Rice came away with four receptions for a fairly modest 67 yards. It seemed innocent enough at the time, but these four catches would be the seeds of an NFL record total over the next two decades.
Rice would finish his career with a staggering 1,549 receptions. He remains 447 catches ahead of the second-ranked (and retired) Marvin Harrison, and 543 catches ahead of the current active leader, Terrell Owens.
After nearly breaking 100 yards in his third game as a professional, Jerry Rice had a disappointing game the following week, failing to catch a ball.
He bounced back the week after, as he caught three passes for 42, one of which was a touchdown. It marked the first touchdown catch and first points of Rice’s career. He would retire with 208 total touchdowns (197 receiving, 10 rushing, and 1 fumble return), and 1,256 points.
He is 33 touchdowns ahead of Emmitt Smith, and 55 ahead of the active leader in LaDainian Tomlinson. He is second only to George Blanda among non-kickers in points scored.
After again failing to record a catch in an away game versus the Washington Redskins, Jerry Rice would rebound the following week in a big way.
Though the 49ers fell to the L.A. Rams, Jerry hauled in 10 catches for 241 yards, showing the first true indications of the greatness that would emerge in years to come. He also began one of the most incredible streaks in NFL history.
Over the next 19 years, Jerry Rice would ensure he never again felt the disappointment of failing to catch a pass in a game. Starting with that game, Jerry caught at least one pass in 274 consecutive games in which he appeared. The streak came to an end in 2004 with the Oakland Raiders.
Jerry Rice finished off the 1987 regular season with an incredibly efficient performance making just three catches, but racking up 90 yards and two touchdowns. The two touchdowns gave him an NFL-record 22 on the strike-shortened season in which Rice and his teammates played just 12 games.
The record would stand for 20 seasons until 2007, when Randy Moss capped an incredible regular season with his 23rd touchdown in the final game of the season against the New York Giants. It is important to note, however, that it took Moss 16 games to eclipse the mark Jerry set having played in just 12.
Jerry did it all while rocking a hairstyle that earned him the nickname “Fifi.”
The 49ers had a shaky 6-5 start to the 1988 season on their way to an ultimate 10-6 record and one of the most emotional and dramatic wins in Super Bowl history to cap off Bill Walsh’s legendary coaching career.
However, if not for Jerry Rice’s Week Two performance, the 49ers would have had a steeper hill to climb. He scored only one touchdown, but it was one of truly critical importance. Trailing 17-13 in the closing seconds of the game, Joe Montana reeled off a deep pass down the right sideline to Jerry Rice. Rice caught the ball and was able to elude two defenders, causing them to collide with one another as he slipped away for a 78-yard score.
The 49ers won the game, moving them to 2-0 on the season, but would struggle until their 12th game, when they started a 4-1 stretch to end the regular season on their way to a Super Bowl run.
Having helped the 49ers to their third Super Bowl with 1,413 total yards and 10 touchdowns in the 1988 regular season, Jerry Rice would cap his best personal playoff campaign with an MVP performance in Super Bowl XXIII.
Rice scored just one touchdown in the game, having scored five in the previous two rounds, but his 11 catches and 215 receiving yards were Super Bowl records. He also had a key catch on the fabled “Drive of the Decade” to set up the game-winning touchdown with under one minute to play.
It was the only time a player other than the starting quarterback had been named MVP in a 49er Super Bowl.
Jerry Rice had a habit of saving his best performances for the biggest games, and Super Bowl XXIV was no different. With the 49ers facing the talented John Elway and a Denver Broncos defense which allowed the fewest points in the NFL that season, Jerry Rice and Joe Montana put on a show.
Montana would find Rice early in the first quarter for a 20-yard touchdown pass on which Rice survived an attempted knock-out blow from Steve Atwater and kept his feet to find the end zone. By the time Rice scored his third touchdown, the score was 34-3, and the 49ers were on their way to the most dominant rout in Super Bowl history at 55-10.
Rice would finish the game 148 yards and three touchdowns, but his performance was overshadowed by Montana, whose record five touchdown passes earned him MVP honors.
In a Week Five matchup with the Atlanta Falcons, Jerry Rice would add another impressive feat to his Hall of Fame résumé.
Joe Montana found Rice 13 times for 225 yards and a record-tying five touchdown catches. The feat tied him with Kellen Winslow and Bob Shaw, who had accomplished the same in 1981 and 1950, respectively.
Jerry Rice entered the 1994 season with 124 touchdowns, one behind Walter Payton, and two behind Jim Brown, then the all-time NFL leader. The 49ers opened the season on Monday Night against the rival L.A. Raiders.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan was intent on getting Rice the record that night, and showing the world that the 49ers were Super Bowl contenders (the team having lost the last two NFC Championships to the Dallas Cowboys). Rice scored two touchdowns to tie Jim Brown before the first-team offense was removed from the game, with the 49ers holding a 37-14 fourth-quarter lead.
Late in the game, George Seifert and Mike Shanahan put the first-team offense back on the field and Steve Young found Jerry Rice deep over the middle at the goal line. Rice out-jumped the defense and came down with the record-breaking score. The 49ers would go on to win the Super Bowl that year.
The 1994 49ers had huge expectations and a high-profile roster built to get past the rival Dallas Cowboys and win the Super Bowl. Having lost the NFC Championship to the Cowboys two years in a row, Eddie DeBartolo worked with his front office to revamp the roster and ensure that would not happen again.
The ploy worked, as the 49ers again faced Dallas in the Conference Championship, but this time came away winners, 38-28. This earned the franchise its fifth Super Bowl berth. They were undefeated in their previous four.
Mike Shanahan, Steve Young, and Jerry Rice would ensure that streak remained intact. Jerry Rice put the 49ers on the board early with a 44-yard touchdown reception, setting the tone for what would be the second Super Bowl romp perpetrated by the 49ers in the last five years.
Jerry finished with 10 catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns, but Steve Young’s record-breaking six touchdown passes earned him MVP honors over Jerry. It would be the last time Jerry Rice would hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
While he may have been finished winning Super Bowls, Jerry Rice was not finished improving on personal performances from years past.
In a Week 16 Monday Night game against the Minnesota Vikings, Jerry Rice had the most prolific receiving game of his career, with 14 receptions for 289 yards and three touchdowns. The performance was instrumental in helping the 49ers outgun the Vikings and win the game 37-30.
They would finish the season 11-5, but failed to get past the Green Bay Packers in a low-scoring first-round playoff matchup.
The stats may have been heavily in Terrell Owens’s favor, but Jerry Rice was the clear focus of a 17-0 win over the Chicago Bears. The 49ers utterly dominated the game and the Bears never crossed the 50-yard line.
Rice hauled in seven catches for 76 yards, which paled in comparison to the 20 catches for 283 yards posted by teammate Terrell Owens. It was seen as a passing of the torch, though Owens would leave the 49ers with much fanfare just three years later.
Rice addressed the crowd in an emotional post-game farewell ceremony, before committing the ultimate treason and crossing the Bay to join the Oakland Raiders.
After being rebuffed by head coach Mike Nolan when we tried to come back to the 49ers and play out the last year of his career in 2005, Jerry Rice announced his intent to retire after spending the 2005 preseason with the Denver Broncos (wearing No. 19 due to Rod Smith’s unwillingness to surrender No. 80 to the legend).
The following summer, he signed a one-day contract with the 49ers, allowing him to retire in red and gold. The contract was officially worth $1,985,806.49, a symbolic figure representing the year he was drafted (1985), his jersey number (80), the year he retired (06), and the 49ers (49). In actuality, Rice received no money for signing the deal.
It may have come as no surprise to anyone else, but Jerry Rice still claimed he felt nervous waiting for the announcement of the 2010 Hall of Fame Class.
In two of the most deserving inductions in history, Jerry will enter Canton with long-time rival Emmitt Smith on 7 August 2010.
Rice will join his fellow immortals from the glory years of the 49ers, including Joe Montana, Steve Young, Ronnie Lott, Fred Dean, and of course Bill Walsh.
Unfortunately, Bill Walsh could not outlive the epic career and mandatory five-year waiting period to be able to present Jerry for enshrinement, as the duo had always intended. Bill’s absence will be the one mar on what otherwise would be a glorious day in 49er lore.
In Bill’s stead, Jerry will be presented by friend and former owner Eddie DeBartolo, a notable Hall of Fame snub in his own right. Having presented Fred Dean in 2008, and now set to present Jerry Rice in 2010, perhaps his persistent presence in Canton will encourage the selection committee to give him his rightful recognition as a truly innovative force in the game.
Congratulations, Jerry! You were simply the best.