They approach the front door with fear in their hearts, as intimidated as a rookie corner-back in single coverage against the man of the house. Soon Jerry Rice will begrudgingly invite them in and stare them down, unable to conceal his contempt for these pimple-faced dudes who seek his elder daughter's company. "I'll look them up and down and let them know that this is my baby and I'm not going to tolerate any b.s.," the Raiders' ageless wideout says.
Sure, he is the greatest receiver ever, but in this context, as 15-year-old Jaqui Rice can attest, Dad's receiving skills leave something to be desired. Jelly's wife, Jackie, agrees that he ought to lighten up on their daughter's suitors. "He's very much the 'scary dad,' " Jackie says. "The word is out at Jaqui's school. Boys look at her and say, 'Oh my God, this is Jerry Rice's daughter, but I don't know if I should talk to her, because I heard her dad's really unfriendly' He sits there with a stern look and says hello, but that's about it. They can't crack him."
You want a piece of this old man?
Scary Jerry has a birthday coming up, and he's a little surly about that, too. This Sunday in St. Louis, when the Raiders take on the Rams, a player who was an NFL star at 23 and a sure first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer by 30 will celebrate the start of his fifth decade. "Damn, the big four-oh," Rice says. "It's big, but it's one of those days you're not really excited about. How can you be excited about it?"
Any football fan who's not pumped about Flash 80 at 40 should have his remote privileges revoked. Rice isn't merely the oldest receiver in modem league history; he's a big reason the Raiders have serious Super Bowl aspirations. Whereas Hall of Fame wideouts Charlie Joiner (34 catches at age 39), Steve Largent (28 at 35) and Art Monk (six at 37) tailed off in their final seasons, Rice is still ripping through opponents, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Just ask the Tennessee Titans, who were burned by Rice for 144 yards on seven catches in the Raiders' 52-25 victory on Sept. 29. The highlight was a short slant pass that Rice turned into a 75-yard burst before being run down by defensive backs Lance Schulters and Samari Rolle at the Tennessee six. It's true that a younger Rice wouldn't have been caught from behind, but, says tight end Roland Williams, "those guys had an angle, and Samari pulled his hamstring catching up."
Even San Francisco 49ers consultant Bill Walsh, who as the team's general manager severed ties with Rice as part of a salary-cap overhaul following the 2000 season, concedes that this legend still has legs. "Really, he can probably play another couple of years if he wants," says Walsh, the man who drafted Rice out of Mississippi Valley State in 1985 and coached him to the first of three Super Bowl victories. " Michael Jordan is back for another season, and they're calculating how much he can play. But with Jerry you can just throw him out there."
While Rice does his thing for the Raiders—against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday he had four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, pushing his season totals to 24 receptions for 340 yards and two scores—the Niners can't help casting envious glances across the Bay. Since relocating to Oakland, Rice has been far more productive than the man who replaced him, J.J. Stokes, whose inability to make big plays has contributed to San Francisco's offensive struggles. "We don't sit there and talk about how we were wrong," says Walsh. "The reality is, Jerry needed a change, and it really revitalized him."
On an Oakland team full of driven veterans primed for a final Super Bowl push, the once moody Rice is giddy about the way the twilight of his career is playing out. "He's just a different guy, laughing and smiling all the time," Jackie says. "I just didn't realize how miserable he was those last few years with the 49ers until he left."
The holder of virtually every significant NFL receiving record (against the Titans he also broke Walter Payton's career mark of 21,264 yards from scrimmage), Rice can't help but chuckle at the predictions a couple of years back that the Minnesota Vikings' Randy Moss would someday threaten those marks. "I knew what he'd have to sacrifice to break my records, and it's not easy," says Rice. "I'd been in the league 10 years before I even took a vacation. I think he's a true talent, but he needs to wake up. He needs to surround himself with some very positive people. He's going down the wrong road right now, but he can learn from his mistakes. This is the chance of a lifetime."
One wideout to whom Rice can relate is teammate Tim Brown, another future Hall of Famer who remains a standout performer at 36. Despite predictions to the contrary, Brown and Rice have blended splendidly, forming what Oakland fullback Jon Ritchie calls a mutual admiration society. The only place the two have trouble coexisting is on the golf course, during weekly competitions with a handful of teammates, where the two ultra-intense receivers must maintain a healthy distance. "There's no animosity or anything," Brown says, "but it just makes for a better round if we ride in different carts."