He's here, in blue lights and red windbreaker, bitchy as a diva with a headache.
The best ever?
He's right here, sitting at his locker, taking off his rain gear after practice, edgy as a cat in a sawmill.
Around him swirls the clamor of big men winding down, messing around, acting like fools. Two bare-chested linemen lock up and start to grapple, rasslin' each other and snorting like trash-talking sumos. Other players laugh, but not the best ever.
"Guys," he says irritably. "Hey, guys!" Someone could get hurt.
The two wrestlers slowly come apart, his voice bringing them to their senses. They've heard the voice before; it's their fourth-grade teacher scolding them for rolling spitballs. It's the voice of San Francisco 49er Jerry Rice, the best wide receiver ever to play football. The 6'2", tightly braided coil of nerves, fast-twitch fibers, delicate grasping skills and unadulterated want-to is setting such high standards for the position that they will probably never be approached again, and he can't stand distractions while he works.
Rice does not fool around. Ever. He works so hard at his conditioning that during the off-season he virtually exits his body and studies his physical package the way a potter studies clay. "I mess with it," he says. "I like to do different things to motivate myself. I set goals and go after them."
As a rookie in 1985 he came to the 49ers at a muscular 208 pounds, but now he weighs 196. He is so lean that you wonder if he's sick. He likes to mess with his body fat, wants it to know that he is its master. For Rice, fat is a cornerback in man coverage with no safety in sight, a minor and ultimately irrelevant nuisance. Eschewing dietary fat, he got down to 189 a year or so ago, but the weight loss was too much. His starved body was literally eating up his muscles. His trainer ordered him to start eating things like ice cream.
"Under four percent body fat and I don't feel good," Rice states. "I'm a health-food fanatic, but getting that low really hurt my performance. I'm at 4.8 percent now, and I feel good."