Posted: Monday May 16, 2005 10:48AM; Updated: Monday May 16, 2005 2:26PM
Jerry Rice caught 30 balls for 429 yards and three TDs for the Raiders and Seahawks last season.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
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The following one-page fax sent to the 32 National Football League teams by SFX Football and noted agent Jim Steiner came across my desk the other day:
To: All NFL Clubs From: Jim Steiner Subject: The GOAT (Greatest of All-Time), Jerry Rice Jerry would like to make 2005 his last year in the NFL. Any takers?? Please call if you think there might be a fit!''
The fax left me conflicted. On one hand, it seemed like the ultimate hat-in-hand begging job -- the same kind of fax an agent might send to teams to get a look-see for an undrafted free agent from Saginaw Valley State. On the other hand, I'm very much in favor of someone playing as long as he wants and as long as there's a team out there willing to give him a uniform. I don't like it when the media gets into the business of telling a guy he should retire because he's either too old or he's embarrassing himself. Let the player determine when he wants to quit.
So I called Steiner last night to get the state of the 42-year-old Rice, and to see if he's had any luck with his fishing expedition-by-fax.
"Jerry didn't ask me to do it,'' Steiner said from his home in St. Louis. "I'd never think about doing it, except in this case, where I know Jerry would like to play. I did it to put the clubs on notice that, under the right circumstances, Jerry would like to play this year. I did it to create awareness, for now and in the near future, that he's still thinking about playing.
"Emotionally and physically, he wants to play this year. He feels good. It's that time of year to get ready to play and he's working hard. His reservation right now is that he'd have to put on a different uniform, which he is a bit twisted about. But his desire to play may drown that reservation.''
Steiner has had discussions with two teams this offseason. (Three, if you count the fairly ugly pas-de-tout with the 49ers, in which San Francisco basically said it had no interest in Rice as a player or front-office man right now.) Steiner said he has broken off talks with the first, a team that would have allowed Rice to come in and earn the third or fourth receiver's job and catch 40 or 50 balls if everything went right. It didn't feel like the right fit. Steiner said he is early in talks with the other team, which he said wants Rice for his leadership and work-ethic lessons, as well as for whatever he could contribute on the field. He wouldn't name either of the teams. "We'll investigate this other option,'' said Steiner, "and see if there's anything there.''
Last week, Steiner golfed with Rice. He told him: "You're never going to want to retire. You're always going to want to play.'' Rice, Steiner said, just listened. But that's obviously the case. Jerry Rice does not want a soul telling him to leave football. There's an old saying in the NFL when it comes to free agents: It only takes one team. As in if one team offers you a contract, that's enough to get you back in the league. And I'd say it's 50-50 that Rice will find that team, either the one Steiner is talking to right now or another. Then he's going to have to decide if he wants to keep playing. To me, it's a slam-dunk answer: If he gets an offer that isn't a slap in the face, he'll return for his 21st season.