Happy Jerry Rice Appreciation Day, everyone. I hope you got all of your shopping done. It seems to come sooner and sooner every year, doesn't it?
You'll rarely find disagreement when you talk about Jerry Rice as the greatest player to ever play in the NFL. Other players may have been more athletic, but when it comes to greatness, it's hard to argue that anyone else comes close.
For Jerry's birthday, let's take a moment to celebrate what this man was able to accomplish. Born in small town Mississippi as the son of a brick mason, Rice didn't even start playing football until his sophomore year of high school when the principal noticed his insane speed -- the principal was trying to catch Jerry for cutting class, like they were living out Ferris Bueller or something.
After a record-breaking senior year at Mississippi Valley State University, the San Francisco 49ers traded up to draft Rice in the first round of the 1985 NFL Draft. He wasn't the Greatest Wide Receiver of All Time immediately -- like many rookie receivers, he struggled at first and dropped numerous passes. But by his second season, he lead the league in yards and touchdowns, and by his third year, he was named NFL MVP.
Jerry Rice holds over 100 NFL records, the most of any player by a wide margin, including receptions, TD catches, and receiving yards. He won three Super Bowls, was named an All-Pro 12 different years, and twice earned NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors.
The final act of his career as an Oakland Raider included anotherSuper Bowl appearance, and breaking Walter Payton's record for the most yards gained from scrimmage.
Jerry was famously disciplined in his practice habits and work ethic. In 1994, when the 49ers acquired the extraordinarily talented but flamboyant CB Deion Sanders, the two superstars got along like oil and water.
Days before the 49ers were to play the Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX, their rivalry came to a head in an explosive shouting match. Their quarrel didn't affect their play on the field -- the Niners won by more than 20 points -- but even 20 years later, both Hall of Famers talk about the other with a guarded animosity. Guessing Jerry won't be receiving a HBD text from Neon Deion today.
I like the Jerry-Deion rivalry because it reminds me that Jerry Rice is still human with quirks and flaws like anyone else.
It's almost easy to forget that when you read his accomplishments or watch his highlights. The things Jerry Rice accomplished in his 20-year career almost seem like they shouldn't be possible. If his career had been half as long, we'd probably still hold him up as the greatest player in NFL history, but the fact that he did it for two decades makes it unlikely that we will ever see another player like Jerry Rice in our lifetimes.
So in honor of the G.O.A.T.'s 55th trip around the sun, take a few minutes to enjoy his uncanny ability to catch, run, and elude tacklers in the open field like no one else ever before, or ever since.