Raiders' Rice still receiver for the ages

At 40, he catches praise for 2-season comeback

Super Bowl, Raiders Vs. Bucs

January 23, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO - His helmet hides the receding hairline. His knowledge of the game offsets declining speed.

But Jerry Rice's hands - although still reliable - betray him all the time. His rough, battle-scarred mitts show the wear and tear of a 40-year-old body while revealing a tale about the ageless Oakland Raiders receiver.

As a teenager in Mississippi, Rice spent the sweltering summers helping his brick-laying father. He worked tirelessly eight hours a day, busting up his hands to build a chimney or a building.

"It taught me the meaning of hard work," Rice said. "When I got to the pros, I knew exactly what hard work meant. I continue to go out there and do whatever it takes to get it done."

The elder statesman of the aging Raiders has used that work ethic and those tough hands to return to the Super Bowl for the first time in eight years.

It's a stage where Rice has been a frequent star, setting 10 Super Bowl records while winning three rings. But if the Raiders beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, will Rice come back for an encore or take a final bow?

"No, this is not my last game," Rice said. "I'm not looking that far down the road. I still enjoy it, and if my body continues to hold up, I'm going to keep playing."

It's hard to argue with the NFL's leading receiver, a man many believed was finished two years ago.

After the 2000 season, Rice was discarded by the San Francisco 49ers because he was viewed more as a backup. Nobody but the Raiders seemed to feel differently.

Specifically, Jon Gruden felt that way, which has created another interesting Super Bowl subplot. If the former Oakland and present Tampa Bay coach had had a little less faith in Rice, he'd have a lot less to worry about Sunday.

"Jon told me that he wanted me to come in and be the old Jerry Rice," Rice said. "Once he told me that, I was ready to go. Jon is the reason why I came to the Raiders."

Rice culminated a remarkable two-season comeback with the Raiders by catching 92 passes for 1,211 yards this season to earn his 13th trip to the Pro Bowl. It was his most catches and most yards since the 1996 season.

"Pretty much everybody had put me out to pasture," Rice said. "I don't want to say, `I told you so,' but if you challenge me, watch out. This is just my second year in Oakland and I'm back here already. I don't see myself slowing down at all."

Rice seethed during his final seasons in San Francisco, when he felt the 49ers tried to develop young players at the expense of a veteran who could still play. But not even Rice imagined his large role with the Raiders.

After Gruden left, new coach Bill Callahan stressed throwing the ball more, and Rice has been the most important threat in the league's most prolific passing offense.

"I'm fortunate to be surrounded by the cast of players that we have, and Jerry Rice is the epitome of that," Callahan said. "He is everything and more. The main thing that I am impressed about is his strong will. To be at the age that he is at and produce the numbers that he has, it's really unique."

Tampa Bay's secondary believes some teams have trouble defending Rice because they become in awe of him.

"He finds himself against guys that really don't know how to play him or are intimidated by what he has done during his career," Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber said. "He is still playing at the level that he was playing at five years ago and it is an impressive sight to see. Jerry Rice is Jerry Rice and he is a special player because of that and he is a Hall of Famer."

Rice acknowledges that his experience is an asset and negates his deteriorating skills. The game is all about angles to Rice, so he has to find ways to outsmart young defensive backs whose speedometers climb much higher than his.

"I'm not going to say that I am as good, but my knowledge about the game makes up for everything else," Rice said. "The game is faster now and the thing about me is I've always been able to adjust. I think that's why I am still having success."

With his hands and work ethic, Rice says he could hold on for a few more seasons.

"Age is just a number," Rice said. "I'm not going to give in to being 40 and over the hill. It's just the way you prepare yourself and the sacrifice that you make."

Rice's records

Receiver Jerry Rice has made his mark in the record book.

NFL records

Yards from scrimmage: 22,242

Receptions: 1,456

Receiving yards: 21,597

Touchdowns: 202

Receiving TDs: 192

100-yard receiving games: 73

1,000-yard receiving seasons: 14

100-catch seasons: 4*

Receiving yards in a season: 1,848 (1995)

Receiving TDs in a season: 22 (1987)

Consecutive games with a TD: 13

Seasons with 50 or more receptions: 16

Consecutive games with a reception: 257

TDs by a wide receiver-quarterback (Steve Young) duo: 84

Super Bowl records

Career receptions: 28

Receptions in a game: 11*

Career receiving yards: 512

Receiving yards in a game: 215

Career points: 42

Points in a game: 18

Career TDs: 7

TDs in a game: 3*

Receiving TDs: 7

Receiving TDs in a game: 3

* - Shares record

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