Posted: Friday June 3, 2005 11:43AM; Updated: Friday June 3, 2005 1:59PM
Jerry Rice hasn't been guaranteed a roster spot and is vying to be the Broncos No. 3 wide receiver.
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How odd does Jerry Rice look in a No. 19 Broncos jersey? Somewhere between Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform and Willie Mays as a Met. Rice looked weird in a Seahawks jersey but at least he was still No. 80.
As several pundits have pointed out recently, Rice is in serious danger of jumping the shark with his 20-year career.
The television metaphor, trying to resuscitate a dying show with a major change (aka, Fonzie jumping over a shark literally in Happy Days), fits well for aging NFL players and teams. And yes, I am aware the term jumping the shark actually jumped the shark itself about three years ago.
If ever a team jumped, it's the '05 Broncos. Denver has introduced one new wacky character after another to try to salvage one more shot at glory. Rice is Cousin Oliver from the Brady Bunch. Ron Dayne is a chubby version Scrappy Doo. And MauriceClarett is Kazoo, the Martian from the Flinstones only Fred and Mike Shanahan can see. Unless someone stops him, Shanahan might hire noted show-killer TedMcGinley (Roger from Happy Days) as his offensive coordinator and completely ruin the team.
Rice's seemingly desperate attempt to stay on the field isn't unique. There's a long tradition of aging superstars playing too long and teams who will hire them in hopes of getting a boost at the gate.
Here's a look back through the years at the players most guilty of going for one year too many. The criteria is a great player who switched teams at the tail end of his career and failed miserably with his new franchise. Note the prevalence of recent players, since the free agency makes this option all too available.
ALL-TIME NFL SHARK-JUMPING TEAM
Quarterback: Joe Namath, Los Angeles Rams, 1977 -- Broadway Joe tried to revive his career in LA, but his knees were shot and he only played four games. Sadly, his career in Hollywood also failed to live up to the high standard he set in his 1973 guest appearance on the Brady Bunch. If Namath doesn't do the trick, Johnny Unitas as a Charger is waiting in the wings.
Running Back: Emmitt Smith, Arizona Cardinals, 2003-04 -- The rushing king gets a good run for his money from O.J. Simpson (49ers), Franco Harris (Seahawks) and Eddie George (Cowboys), but Smith's decision to play for a team without any shot at winning the Super Bowl gives him the spot. A career 4.2-yard-per-carry rusher, Smith averaged 3.3 yards in 25 games with the Cards.
Wide Receiver: Jerry Rice, Broncos, 2005-? -- If Rice's legacy didn't overshadow every receiver who's ever played the game, perhaps we'd cut him more slack. But when you're that good for that long, there's little margin for error. Future Hall of Famer Cris Carter proved leaving the television studio for a locker room is never a good idea when he came out of retirement to join the Dolphins in '02.
Tight End: Jackie Smith, Cowboys, 1978 -- All you future Hall of Famers out there should look at Smith before signing on for that extra year. After 14 stellar seasons with the Cardinals, he joined the Cowboys for one last hurrah. Now all anyone remembers about Smith is the touchdown pass he dropped when he was with Dallas in Super Bowl XIII.
Center -- Mike Webster, Kansas City Chiefs, 1989-90 -- Except for Franco, most of the great Steelers retired in gold and black. Webster was the ultimate symbol for that team, a blue-collar dynasty built on guts as much as talent. Webster's late career and retirement years became a tragic story and it's sad he couldn't have retired with Pittsburgh.
Guard -- Nate Newton, Carolina Panthers, 1999 -- After 13 season in Dallas, the six-time Pro Bowler played seven games with Carolina. What a waste of time, considering Newton could have been pursuing his life goal of being the world's "biggest dope man." Actually, considering CBS' report on the Panthers, a stop in Carolina seems to fit well with that goal.
Tackle -- Forrest Gregg, Dallas Cowboys, 1971 -- The man Vince Lombardi called the greatest he ever coached came out of retirement to bolster an injury-plagued Cowboys line in 1971. Yes, he did win another Super Bowl ring that year, but he should have ended his career in Green Bay.
Kicker: None. Kickers can't jump the shark. With indoor stadiums, they're good well into their 70s. Teams could bring out Morten Andersen in a walker and he'd still be money from 30-39. Sebastian Janikowski is still young and could find a way to jump and the Gramatica brothers always flirted in shark territory with their celebrations, but they still don't quite fit the category.
Punter: Todd Sauerbrun, Denver Broncos, 2005: Even if Sauerbrun sets every NFL punting record -- which he probably will in Denver's thin air -- his career took a huge spill when he was implicated in the Panthers' steroid scandal by CBS. Even if that story ends up not being true, Sauerbrun has a history of unsavory behavior, including his ongoing feud with the above-mentioned Gramatica brothers. We'll have to create a special category for punters and kickers who think they're real football players.