Last serving of Rice?
Legendary wide receiver likely done with 49ers
Updated: Sunday December 24, 2000 1:57 PM
Jerry Rice, who holds the NFL receiving records for career yards and touchdowns, played what figures to be his final game in a San Francisco uniform on Saturday as the 49ers fell to the Broncos 38-9 in the last regular-season game at Mile High Stadium.
Because of salary-cap constraints, Niners general manager Bill Walsh is expected to release Rice in June, although the receiver wants to return for a 17th season.
"I'm not going to say it is my last game as a 49er, because I will always be a 49er," Rice said. "That is something I will go over when it is time, but right now I'm still a 49er. I'm just going to wait and see what is going to happen in the offseason."
If Saturday marked the end of Rice's career in the Bay Area, he would leave with an unparalleled resume that includes three Super Bowl rings. His six receptions for 61 yards Saturday gave him 1,281 catches for 19,247 yards in his career.
"I hugged him after the game and told him he's the greatest," Broncos cornerback Terrell Buckley said. "I appreciate him letting me even play against him. I hope somebody took a picture of me in my bump-and-run stance so I can put it up on my wall."
Denver linebacker Bill Romanowski, who spent six seasons with Rice in San Francisco, also embraced his former teammate after the game. It was a rare public display of affection for the otherwise hard-nosed Romanowski.
"Jerry has always been an inspiration for me from the day I stepped out on that football field and watched that guy perform day in and day out," he said. "The guy is amazing. He's the best that's ever played the game."
The Denver fans seemed to agree as they took a break from their victory celebration to give Rice a final Mile High salute. The crowd chanted, "Jerry! Jerry!" as Rice headed toward the locker room.
"It caught me by surprise," Rice said. "For them to show me the respect like that, I guess I did something right over the years. I was very appreciative."
Rice was unable to add to his NFL-record 176 touchdowns as the Broncos limited San Francisco's offense throughout the day. For the record, his final catch of the game was a 9-yard pass from Jeff Garcia with about 6:30 remaining.
"There is more to it than football. We will miss what he brings to the Bay Area in general," Niners head coach Steve Mariucci said. "He has been quite a generous person. If he is not a 49er next year, it will really be strange."
The 49ers have offered Rice a $1 million bonus to retire, but Rice reiterated his desire to play another season, even if it means wearing another uniform for the first time since leaving Mississippi Valley State in 1985.
"It may be a good-bye to this career, but life is going to go ahead," he said. "I know I still have some football in me."