Dallas felt even better about the prospect of selecting Rice when Cincinnati -- with the No. 13 pick -- passed on Rice to draft Eddie Brown, a wide receiver from Miami.
But as fate would have it, the San Francisco 49ers made a trade with New England to move up to the 16th spot and selected Rice right in front of us. You couldn't imagine our disappointment. The Cowboys war room fell silent.
The 49ers already had a pretty good receiving corps that included Dwight Clark, Freddie Solomon and Mike Wilson. And we thought because of Rice's lack of blazing speed (he only ran a 4.66 40-yard dash at the combine at Arizona State) that he would still be there for us to take.
But apparently Bill Walsh saw something special in Rice just as we did. Drafting Rice is probably the best move the 49ers franchise ever made, along with trading for Steve Young prior to 1987.
One of our scouts, Ron Marciniak, loved Rice and convinced coach Tom Landry, team president Tex Schramm and myself that Rice could run just as fast in full gear as he ran in shorts.
And he was right. Not many people caught Rice from behind in his 20-year career.
Some of my thoughts on Rice upon visiting Mississippi Valley State's practice on Oct. 27, 1984:
--Very coachable, trainer and coaches say he has never been a problem on or off the field
--He will go across the middle and make tough catches
--He plays faster than the 4.66 speed we have timed
--He will start in his second year for a contender.
--He will play a long time in the NFL, has big-play ability
The final grade on Rice was 8-B-4, which meant this (my words in my notebook at the time):
Must have the size and all capabilities necessary, and will become a member of the squad of a championship team in his rookie year with a better than average chance of being a starter as a rookieâ¦ definitely must have the size and latent ability to become eventual starter on a championship team.
I remember talking to Rice once and noticed his hands we callous. I asked him why, and he said he and his brother throw bricks at each other to practice catching. That right there spoke a lot to Rice's attention to detail and his desire to want to be the greatest.
The ironic thing about losing out on Rice was that he even thought he was going to be a Dallas Cowboy, because we had showed a lot of interest and talked to him a lot. Boy did we miss out.
Rice went on to become the greatest receiver ever and ended his 20-year career as a three-time Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl MVP who holds a plethora of all-time NFL records, including career touchdowns (208), receptions (1,549) and receiving yards (22,895). Rice today is the same person that we came to know in 1984. He still is a "yes sir, no sir" type of individual. Fame has not affected him in any way.
We would've been a much better team and had a chance to compete for some more Super Bowls if we had Rice. We thought he was going to be good, but nobody had any idea that he was going to be as great as he was. He is an unbelievable success story.