The Age Old Question
October 12 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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He no longer wears Red and Gold, but he will always be remembered as a 49er. Even as Jerry Rice catches touchdowns for the Raiders across the bay, Rice is regarded as a 49er. This weekend Rice will be turning 40, becoming one of a very select group of people to play in the NFL at that age.
Amazingly, though not surprisingly, Rice is still productive. Of the 36 players that have played into their 40ís most have been either quarterbacks and kickers and most are not playing any where near the level they played at throughout their career. Rice of course is the exception. Since turning 35 Rice has scored 35 touchdowns (two rushing are included), and this weekend with two touchdowns Rice could be the first player in NFL history to record 200 career touchdowns. Riceís performance is still among the leagues best, this season he is averaging 14.2 yards per reception more than any receiver on the 49ers roster.
He has defied all odds to play this well, this long. Most great players are retired long before their 35th birthday, let alone their 40th. Rice is out there week in and week out beating guys that are nearly 20 years his junior. They should be in better shape, they should be stronger, and they should be faster - and in most cases they are - but it doesnít matter because they are not Jerry Rice.
Riceís desire to be the best started him on a grueling off-season training program that has made it impossible for other players to train with him. He owes some of the programís intricacies to former 49er Ronnie Lott, but most of it is original.
His grueling training compiled with a passion for the game that extends beyond simply being the best - but to actually being Ďperfectí Rice has made a living giving defenses headaches. Itís not just his physical tools that make him great though, nor his soft hands and incredible coordination. Itís not just the emotion, or the never say die attitude that he learned while working for his father as a brick layer. No itís much more than that. Itís having the brains.
Rice understands the game of football at a level so deep itís unparalleled throughout history and the league. He understands what he can do, being a step slower; to be beat a faster corner. He knows how to defeat a stronger defensive back, he simply knows more about the game of football and the receiver position than any other player in the NFL. Itís that knowledge, along with everything else that allows Rice to be the players he was in the past, even today.