Mariucci keeps leash on Rice this time

ON THE NFL

June 07, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Jerry Rice is finding out that coach Steve Mariucci has decided he's now the boss.

A year ago, Mariucci, the rookie coach of the San Francisco 49ers, seemed almost intimidated by Rice, the wide receiver who's bound for the Hall of Fame.

After Rice suffered a major knee injury in the opener Aug. 31 and underwent surgery, Mariucci let him return for a Monday night game against the Denver Broncos on Dec. 15.

The problem is that even for a workout warrior like Rice, it's fool-hardy to try to return that fast.

Sure enough, Rice lasted less than a half before he broke a kneecap.

At minicamp last week, Mariucci said no when Rice wanted to participate in team drills, even though players aren't allowed to use pads.

"I would like to do a little more, but Steve is being very cautious, and he's really driving me crazy, too, because I believe in practicing and getting myself ready," Rice said.

"I have no choice. Steve's controlling everything. If it were left to me, I would probably take the same approach [as last year]. But everything is going to work out."

Rice still has no second thoughts about returning for that Monday night game when Joe Montana's number was retired.

"I wouldn't change that for the world, just to be able to run back on that field again. That night, that atmosphere was unbelievable," Rice said.

Mariucci also won't second-guess the decision and will only say he's taking it slow because the season is still three months away.

Quarterback Steve Young is one 49er who has publicly second-guessed the move.

"Everybody got really hyped up for the moment, but clearly, probably, he should have used a little more time," Young said.

Rice will be 36 on Oct. 13, and it's uncertain if he'll ever be the same player he was before the injury. Rod Woodson suffered a similar injury while playing for Pittsburgh in the 1995 opener, came back for the Super Bowl that season and hasn't been the same player since.

But Rice said, "I don't see any reason why I can't come back and do the things I'm accustomed to doing."

Speaking out

Green Bay Packers defensive end Reggie White, who retired and un-retired in April, couldn't practice at minicamp last week because he's still rehabilitating his chronically aching back.

White, though, says he's going to be a starter, not a part-time player.

"If I didn't, I would go ahead and retire now," he said last week.

Meanwhile, White, who lost a CBS job after a controversial speech to the Wisconsin state legislature in which he stereotyped several races, is still speaking out.

While receiving the Family, Faith and Freedon Award from the conservative Family Research Council in Washington recently, White blamed the media for his problems.

He said that during a two-week juice fast, God told him that "Satan is the prince of the power of communications."

He added, "I hear people lying all day long on TV and in the newspapers. When are we going to make the media accountable? The Madison [Wis.] media made a lot of money selling my comments and making me look dumb."

No laughing matter

Comedian Bill Cosby is likely to be a minority owner of the new Cleveland Browns. He's investing $25 million in the group headed by cable TV executives Charles and Larry Dolan.

Both Cosby and the Dolans disagreed with the conventional wisdom that Cosby was brought in to give the group minority participation.

Cosby also had to explain to the Cleveland media that he's a friend of Ravens owner Art Modell and attended the first Ravens game in 1996 as Modell's guest.

The Dolan group and one headed by New York businessman Howard Milstein are considered the leading contenders to get the Cleveland team.

Cleveland businessman Al Lerner, taking the same tack he did when he was briefly involved in the Baltimore expansion bid, doesn't seem interested unless the league designates him as the owner. The league, trying to jack up the price to the $500 million range, wants to have a bidding process.

The new league

The NFL may be facing its most serious threat since Lamar Hunt founded the AFL in 1960 when the Turner-NBC league takes the field. It's not likely to start until 2000.

In the past, new leagues have wanted to merge with the NFL. The idea of this league is to stop the NFL from having the whip hand in TV negotiations.

Ted Turner and Time Warner passed on keeping the first half of the Sunday night package for TNT when NFL wanted $35 million a game. Since TNT sold only $60 million to $65 million worth of ads last year, the package would have been a money-loser after the second game.

Disney CEO Michael Eisner went for that price for ESPN for the whole package -- $600 million for the season -- because he thinks he'll have synergy with the ABC Monday night package.

With the other networks likely to lose hundreds of millions of dollars on their NFL packages over the next eight years, the new league could be a success if it has modest losses. And if NBC and and Turner don't bid on the NFL in the future, the rights fees will drop.

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