Even though he's ready, not playing is tough for Rice
Posted: Wednesday September 7, 2005 3:51PM; Updated: Wednesday September 7, 2005 9:17PM
Jerry Rice decided to retire on Monday, instead of being a fourth-string receiver with the Broncos.
Peter Read Miller/SI
By S.L. Price, SI.com
The first thing to know about Jerry Rice, 42 years old and finished now as a player in the NFL, is that he didn't want to play football again.
He spent the July night before the opening of Denver Broncos training camp alone, pacing the halls of his Atherton, Calif., home, not sleeping and not wanting to leave. It was strange; his wife, Jackie had never seen him like that, not when his knee was shredded in 1997, not once in their 21 years together. But with their oldest daughter, Jaqui, about to go off to college, with son Jerry Jr. set to begin his first season of high school football, Rice knew his taste for something -- fame? Competition? -- was fading. He had worked out with Jerry Jr.'s team two days before but loved it for the wrong reason. All he could think about was climbing into the stands like anyone else and just watching. "I want to sit there and be a father," he said.
The second thing to know about Jerry Rice -- especially if you're to understand how he became the greatest wide receiver in NFL history -- is that, even while feeling all that, he couldn't help himself. The next morning he called Broncos coach Mike Shanahan and told him he was done, then changed his mind, then polled his kids and decided to quit again. Of course: He was a sure Hall of Famer, a 13-time Pro Bowl selection; it had been a decade, really, since Rice had had anything to prove. Shanahan offered nothing more than a minimum salary and a vow that Rice would have to earn his spot. Yet within two hours Rice was on his way to the San Francisco airport, Jackie at the wheel.
It made little sense. He knew it. "I don't want to go," Rice told Jackie again, and she pulled up to the curb unsure if he'd even get out of the car. Finally, after a long hug, he walked into the airport, but she knew better than to leave. He called her six times in the next 15 minutes, as Jackie sat idling. "You still out there?" he'd say, and she waited for him to come out, for it all to be over.
But there was something in his head still, maybe "the demons," as Rice once called them: that furious ambition, those bewilderingly high standards. A voice insisted, You can still catch that slant route, can still go 90 yards. You know you can. He loved to win, yes. But Rice needed football for something else too, if only for a bit, and not even those closest to him could say exactly what it was.