The last work stoppage in the NFL occurred in 1987. It was Jerry Rice’s third year in the league, and the idea of not playing football frustrated him.
“But you had to do it,” he said. “You got to support the union.”
What did Rice do when he couldn’t get to work during ’87?
“We worked out, about 10 or 12 of us, at Stanford. We just tried to get some timing down.”
Even though four games were cancelled, making it a 12-game season, that year launched him on his Hall of Fame career.
He led the league in receiving yards (1,078) and racked up 22 TD receptions, an NFL record that stood until Randy Moss broke it in the 16-game 2007 season.
Rice talked on Tuesday at the media day for the Nationwide Tour’s stop in the Bay Area, the Fresh Express Golf Classic in April. Rice, the tournament host, shed more light on recent events in his life:
Golf – “I’m not going pro.”
Using a laser device to measure distances that got him disqualified from last year’s Nationwide BMW golf tournament in South Carolina – “I respect this game, and it was a big mistake.”
How he prepared mentally to appear before millions TV viewers during the 2006 Dancing With The Stars – “I was willing to put myself out there, and I could take the criticism.”
Afterward, he answered questions about the 49ers and other NFL issues.
Q: What do you think about the idea of going to an 18-game schedule?
Rice: “That seems rather odd. Here they are talking about protecting players by dialing back how they hit, and now they want to add two more games? Today’s players are bigger, faster, and they’re going to get hurt.
"Now you’re giving them more chances to get hurt. They say we had two preseason games, and they’re just switching those out. But veterans like me didn’t play [much] in preseason games.”
Q: What’s your outlook for the negotiations going on right now?
Rice: “They’ll get it done. They agreed to another extension. I think they’re getting closer.”
Q: In today’s game, there are more spread offenses, quicker throws, meaning the receivers are running 4- and 5-yard stops and hitches. Would you be as successful in today’s game?
Rice: “I think so. I always worked on techniques. I would adapt. I had the best coach in the world in Bill Walsh. He always took it back to fundamentals. And from there we understood what we had to do, how to break down another team.
"If a play called for a 5-step drop, it everything was geared to being at the right place by the five steps. We took pride in our precision. So, yeah, I would do OK.”
Q: Do you like the idea of new coach Jim Harbaugh bringing back the West Coast offense?
Rice: “Yes. He’s going to simplify that, make it easy. But it starts with the quarterback. That’s what’s interesting. You have Carson Palmer out there. And there’s Kevin Kolb. Maybe you get a veteran to run the offense now and draft a quarterback and work him in.”
Q: Do you think a Donovan McNabb could fill that role?
Rice: “I don’t know.”
Q: Do you think Alex Smith is that bad that it’s necessary to replace him?
Rice: “No. But it’s been about six years now and you have to wonder if it’s time for him to move on. And he came from Utah, and he took snaps in the shotgun.
"Going from the shotgun to taking the ball from under center and dropping back and reading and then throwing on time, it’s totally different.”
Q: But in ’09, when Smith came in against the Texans, the team switched to a spread offense and he made the quick throws and moved the team. Last year against the Saints, he rallied the team during the last two minutes and drove them down the field.
Rice: “But you got to show consistency. It’s one thing to do it at the end, but where is it in the first and second quarters? And where is it every week?
"Consistency is something you have to have in a quarterback. You can do it two or three times, but you have to do it every week.”
Q: Do you ever think about helping out the team, or coaching?
Rice: “It’s a dedicated life. I mean, the coaches don’t have a life. They are totally committed. But if they ask, I’ll talk with a player or work with him.
Q: Have you ever worked with Michael Crabtree?
Rice: “No. Maybe I’m not on good terms with him. I said some things about him during his holdout [five games in 2009]. I don’t think he liked it. You can say we haven’t bonded.”