Dominating As Few Ever Have Done

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - September 14, 2005
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Oh, yes. Another vacation in the record books. High school football - the home team coming back from a two touchdowns deficit in the final 2:24 to steal the victory. Canoeing - dodging fallen trees and shifting currents. Major League baseball - yep, the Tigers lost again. Golf - bad, worse, you get the idea. Roller coasters - 300-foot drops at 92 mph while smashing through a thousand small insects. And maybe best of all - 250 miles in the saddle of a Harley-Davidson Road King. Is there anything more to say? Good God, vacation is great. Even got to see West Oahu win the Little League World Series, unfortunately the live ending was interrupted by coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

On to something of value - the end of the line for the man who was the very best to ever play his position.

Coming out of Mississippi Valley State, Jerry Rice was an unknown to most of the country. Playing at such a small school will do that. And as the third receiver taken in the 1985 draft, not many expected that the quiet young man would one day stand taller than any that came before. But once in training camp with the San Francisco 49ers, he showed everyone what Mississippi had already known - that there was something special about this not particularly fast wideout. Beyond the physical talent that allowed him to rack up 4,693 receiving yards in college, which could be written off as due to playing against inferior competition, there was an internal fire to not just outwork everyone around him, but to simply be the very best. He knew he could do it. Now he just had to let everyone else in on the secret. That didn’t take long.

As a rookie, the Starkville, Miss., native caught 49 passes for 927 yards and three touchdowns.

It was all uphill from there. Fifteen hundred yards-plus the next year, 20.4 yards per catch in 1998, 122 catches seven seasons later - and four Super Bowl victories. All totaled he leaves with 38 NFL records including many where he pretty much lapped the field. He caught 1,549 balls, and No. 2 is Chris Carter, who is only 448 yards or roughly five seasons behind. His 274 straight games with a grab bests the competition by a mere 91 games. If Tim Brown were still playing he would need just 7,962 yards to surpass Rice in that category. And those hoping to top his touchdown totals had better be ready to work. He’s No. 1 in that category by a career’s worth: 67. Oh, and he only lost two fumbles in his entire career. Just something else to shoot for.

Rice probably stands with only Jim Brown and maybe Dick Butkus as the most dominate players in the history of the game. We’ll put him at No. 2 behind the legendary Cleveland Browns running back simply because Brown was not only possibly the best runner to ever play but because he was the best back in the league in every year he played. Not even Rice can make that claim.

As the saying goes, Jerry Rice may not be in a class by himself, but whatever class he’s in, it didn’t take long for him to take the role. With a combination of great talent and even greater drive, he rose from humble beginnings to one of the most influential people in his profession.

No, he wasn’t perfect. He demanded a lot of himself and those around him. Like all great athletes he had pride and ego that at times could be a bit much, and his need to be portrayed correctly seemed to always lead him to asking, “Make sure you make me look good,” before a taped interview.

But make no mistake about it. Rice was great for the game, and with his efforts for the March of Dimes, the United Negro College Fund, AIDS research, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and his work for his high school and college alma maters, he’s ensured that he will be remembered for more that what he did on the field.

And isn’t that really the point?

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