Rice Is a Breed Apart
Even cornerbacks of the best pedigree bite when 49er Jerry Rice makes his moves
Posted: Tuesday September 11, 2007 3:11PM; Updated: Tuesday September 11, 2007 3:11PM
This story originally appeared in the Sept. 28, 1987 issue of Sports Illustrated
OKAY, GENTLEMEN, ARE YOU ALL here? Green. Hayes. Irvin. Lewis. Walls. Good, then, let's start the briefing. Put your egos in your watch pockets. We want all you elite cornerbacks to grasp the gravity of the situation. Things are getting out of hand with San Francisco's Jerry Rice. Item: He has three gears -- fast, very fast and gone. Item: He can fake the decals off your helmet without disturbing the paint. Item: At 6'2", 200 pounds, he's perfectly built to carry out his missions. We know that most of you like to work one-on-one, but we want you to work closely with your safeties on this operation. All we can do is warn you. Now listen up. We have Rice's voice on tape. Here's what he has to say about each of you:
Darrell Green, Redskins. "Vulnerable to the slant shake. He'll bite hard on the slant because he feels he's got the speed to recover. Bite. Shake. Gone!"
Lester Hayes, Raider. "Get him on the third move. Take him in, out, come under. Let him alongside. Nod out, break back hard inside. The opening will be there."
LeRoy Irvin, Rams. "The comeback. First thing he'll do is take off. He doesn't want you behind him. So eat up his cushion. Turn him. Once he's turned -- once anybody's turned -- he's mine."
Albert Lewis, Chiefs. "Good speed. Need more than one move. On Albert I have to run three outs, with an out shake in there. Change the order. Let him decide. As soon as he lifts that foot to turn, shake, burn, by him."
Everson Walls, Cowboys. "Ah, Everson. You've got to take him a couple of extra steps into a route. You've got to use your head, your eyes. Be subtle. Out, in, then in hard. Look for the ball to the post. Demand the ball in the post with your eyes. See, you've got to make him believe it. Then shoot to the corner. On Everson, you want to run a go, a burn, and you want to do it early. Then we've got a ball game."
We see we have your attention now, gentlemen. Save your indignation. It won't help you. You're dealing with a cold executioner. You must study Jerry Rice -- what he does, when he does it, how he thinks, what he doesn't like. You must find the flaw in his character. You must know him as well as you know yourselves. Why? So you won't embarrass yourselves or the cities and the institutions you represent when Rice comes to terrorize you and tread on your painted end-zone grass. Are you with us now? We thought you might be. By the numbers, then.
1) Getting Open
"I need my space," says Rice. "That's just the way I am. I don't like crowds." He has just eaten dinner in the cafeteria at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif., where the 49ers hold their training camp. Rice even looks open in the dinner line. He's part of the group, yet off to one side. Some of the guys may joke with him on certain days, but this isn't one of them. Rice is wearing stone-washed jeans over legs that belong on a horse, dark glasses and the hairdo that led some teammates to call him Fifi, as in poodle cut. They called him that before he shocked the NFL last season, his second in the league, by scoring 16 touchdowns and catching 86 passes for 1,570 yards. That's the third-highest receiving yardage total in NFL history. The top two -- Charley Hennigan's 1,746 yards and Lance Alworth's 1,602 -- came during the aerial circus that was the AFL.
Twice last year Rice caught three TD passes in a game. He had 12 receptions for 204 yards against Washington -- and dropped 3 passes. The drops suggest he's human. Ignore that for now. At only 24, Rice is running his name into the record books with a smooth and impeccable stride. "But the number 1 thing about receiving, getting open,is speed," says Rice. "Speed's essential."