Rice is a Breed Apart (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday September 11, 2007 3:11PM; Updated: Tuesday September 11, 2007 3:11PM
Throw out those 40-yard-dash times, gentlemen. They mean nothing. Nowadays everybody says he runs at least 4.4. Outside of, oh, 20 guys, everybody is lying. "I'm a 4.4," says Rice with a gleam in his eye. Not all the time. The book says he's a 4.6. But it doesn't matter what he runs in shorts for a guy holding a stopwatch. That's track. You don't play track. You run track. You play football. "Jerry's got game speed," says San Francisco safety Ronnie Lott. "He's 4.2 in games. Hard to explain, but nobody outruns Jerry in a game."
"It's the speed coming out of the break, the speed with the uniform on, the speed of the first five steps," says Rice. "My first five steps are right now. I'm on you. Sprinters don't have the full body control you need. They chop their steps going into cuts. I accelerate into my cuts, accelerate again coming out of them. I amaze myself, sometimes."
Rice developed his speed as a kid growing up outside Crawford, Miss., which is 38 miles from Starkville, which is where you can get the bus to Jackson. And from Jackson, two or three plane rides will get you almost anywhere. Rice grew up simon-pure. No street lights, or sidewalks, or traffic sings, or stadium concerts. No drugs, or crime, or sirens. No distractions.
When Rice wanted a good time as a boy, he and some of his five brothers would go into the family's field and chase the neighbors' horses who grazed there. "They didn't just come to you," Rice says. "If you wanted to ride, you chased them down." So the Rice brothers would pursue the horses, zigging and zagging over seven acres of farmland. When they caught the horses, they would ride bareback.
"He just gets . . . so open," 49er quarterback Joe Montana says of Rice. "He has the knack of knowing when to break, when to use his speed." Backup quarterback Steve Young says, "What makes Jerry so special is his body language. I've never seen anything like it, what he can do to a defensive back. Yet at the same time, the quarterback can read him perfectly. Whenever he has an optional cut, it's like, I know where he's going to go."
The reason Rice gets so open is that defensive backs have so much trouble figuring out where he's going to go. In an Aug. 15 preseason game against the Raiders, Rice sold cornerback Lionel Washington on the post and then beat him to the corner and caught a 23-yard scoring pass from Young. Piece of cake. Rice beat Washington by five yards. This, gentlemen, was a mismatch. Nothing against Washington, of course, but he has only one pair of legs.
Without Rice, who was sidelined by a broken finger he sustained while blocking in practice, the Niners looked punchless in an Aug. 22 exhibition against the Cowboys. While Rice watched the 13-3 loss from the stands, his body twitched as he vicariously ran patterns against Walls, who intercepted two passes. "I was running and moving," said Rice after the game. "I was yelling, 'You've got to turn him!' My wife, Jackie, thinks I'm crazy."
Rice can get open in his sleep. He'll sometimes break into a pattern in the middle of the night, shaking out of bed in his Redwood Shores town house with a jab step, either way, eating up the cushion between him and the bedroom wall. Jackie, who 3 1/2 months ago gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Jaqui, might peer at him and mumble something about there being two babies in the house.