IN MAY 2005, Jim Steiner, the agent for 42-year-old wide receiver Jerry Rice, faxed the following plea to NFL front offices:
To: All NFL Clubs
From: Jim Steiner
Subject: The GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), Jerry Rice
Jerry would like to make 2005 his last year in the NFL. Any takers?? Please call if you think there might be a fit!
The Broncos brought Rice to training camp, and one day, over lunch, I asked him if he was worried about tarnishing his 49ers legacy by going hat in hand to Denver. "Not at all," he said. "I love football. I want to play it as long as I can." A couple of weeks later the Broncos told Rice he'd be a fourth receiver at best, and he retired.
I recall the Rice story because of all the talk that Brett Favre, who retired last week, dimmed his legacy with his lousy play in the final month of his final season, with the Jets. But the ill feeling toward Favre's acrimonious departure from the Packers, his shotgun wedding with New York and the awful five-game stretch that knocked the Jets from Super Bowl contenders to postseason observers will pass. After all, the ugly ending in San Diego for Johnny Unitas, the awkward year in Seattle for Franco Harris and the desperate finish with the Broncos for Rice were forgotten. But unlike those players, Favre still had some classic moments at the end. There was a third-and-15 conversion in overtime at New England on Nov. 13 to keep the winning drive alive. And a supreme passing exhibition (25 of 32 for 224 yards and two touchdowns) in a rout of the 10--0 Titans on the road the following week.
Rice will stand on the podium at Canton in 18 months and tearfully accept his entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Tarnished by his fling with Denver? Hardly. Favre will do the same in August 2014, and there won't be a soul in the cheeseheaded crowd who will think that his one season in New York took any luster off his 16 in Green Bay. Last week, when I asked Favre about how it all ended, he said, "No regrets. I'm a football player." Which is how he should be remembered.