San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice, who has at least one reception in each of his past 89 regular-season games, said yesterday that he has played the past seven games with a torn knee ligament.
Rice, whose productivity has fallen off dramatically, said a Magnetic Resonance Imaging test taken approximately four weeks ago showed a partial tear of the collateral cruciate ligament behind his right knee.
He said that, after the results of the test, team trainer Lindsy McLean suggested he take a couple of weeks off.
"You work so hard during the off-season and you get yourself in a situation like this, and it's hard to pull yourself out," Rice said. "I just can't see myself sitting on the sidelines while my team is out there fighting for a win."
Rice said the injury occurred in the fourth quarter of a 17-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 15.
The 49ers denied trying to cover up the injury by not reporting it.
"If he misses practice or there is a 25 percent chance he will miss the game, then we report the injury to the league office," said John McVay, team vice president. "But he never missed a practice nor a game."
Coach George Seifert also said the injury was being blown out of proportion.
"I guarantee you, if the doctors thought he should have been operated on or in a cast or whatever, that's what he would have been doing," Seifert said. "That's not the problem. . . The problem is we haven't been getting him the ball."
* STEELERS: Offensive guard Terry Long, who attempted suicide last summer after flunking the NFL's steroids test, lost his appeal and was suspended for four games.
A former All-American offensive lineman at East Carolina, who added 120 pounds during a military stint between high school and college, Long was suspended without pay for the next four weeks.
Long, 32, has been on the injured reserve list since Oct. 18 with a torn triceps muscle in his right arm and may not return even after his suspension ends.