Rice hardly lazy after all these years

Rice hardly lazy after all these years

FLOWERY BRANCH - Only 17 wide receivers have their names enshrined at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Jerry Rice surely will make the list grow five years after he retires.

Jerry Rice, though, seems determined to follow the paths of so many former superstars who couldn't walk away from the game.

Johnny Unitas ended his career in San Diego, Joe Namath in Los Angeles, Franco Harris in Seattle and Eric Dickerson in Atlanta. It's hard to believe Rice, arguably the best receiver in NFL history, would strip dignity from his amazing career, but that was the choice he made on Oct. 19, six days after his 42nd birthday.

Traded from Oakland to Seattle for a conditional seventh-round pick, Rice left a team that stopped throwing him the football to one that offered less guarantees.

Yet on Sunday in the Pacific Northwest, Rice will stand by as Koren Robinson replaces him in the lineup against the Atlanta Falcons. Robinson is no slouch. In 2002, he joined Steve Largent, Seattle's lone Hall of Fame inductee, as the only Seahawks to finish a single season with 1,200 receiving yards.

Rice filled in the last five games because Robinson violated the NFL's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances.

"Jerry's going to be in our personnel groupings and an occasional series," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said this week. "It's important for Koren. He's an explosive guy. He's had one game back. He wants to contribute. I need him to contribute. His teammates need him to contribute."

Those are the kind of comments Holmgren would've used to describe Rice during their time together with the San Francisco 49ers. Holmgren was quarterbacks coach in San Francisco from 1986-88 and offensive coordinator from 1989-91 while Rice helped the 49ers win three of their unprecedented five Super Bowls.

Given the life expectancy of a typical NFL career, approximately 1.5 years, Rice bucked most trends long ago, but the 19-year veteran may have a harder time letting go of the past. He already saw his record for consecutive games (274) with at least one catch end at Buffalo in Week 2. He agreed to the trade that sent him from the Bay Area, yet still he had enough pride to ask the Seahawks if could wear his jersey, No. 80, in Seattle.

The team retired that number following the Hall of Fame ceremonies of Largent, a four-term U.S. Congressman from Oklahoma who retired from football in 1989. Largent gladly agreed, but it's hard to conceive the Seahawks would employ Rice again in 2005.

If they do, Atlanta defensive tackle Rod Coleman won't be surprised.

"He goes out there and works like it's his last game every time he's out there on the field," said Coleman, who played with Rice in Oakland from 2001-03. "He's just a hard worker. He wants to make plays every chance he gets."

Falcons cornerback Aaron Beasley, a nine-year NFL veteran in his first season with Atlanta, has faced Rice several times. Though far older than most receivers, Rice is still an occasional master at his craft.

"A couple times when I was with the Jets, you always play that, 'Oh, he doesn't have it anymore' card, but he knows how to get open." Beasley said. "He's been in the league 19 years and they say when he came out, he only ran a 4.7 (seconds in the 40-yard dash). He's got game speed. He's one of those guys you can't put a clock on the amount of experience he has."

Reflecting on time he spent with Rice in San Francisco, Falcons head coach Jim Mora paid Patrick Kerney the ultimate compliment when the NFC named his standout defensive end as September's defensive player of the month.

Mora, now in his first season with Atlanta, compared Kerney's work ethic to that of Rice, whose 35 NFL records include most touchdowns (197, including 25 against the Falcons), most catches (1,549) and most combined net yards (23,546).

From 1997-2000, Mora worked first two years as secondary coach and the second two as defensive coordinator during Rice's final years with San Francisco. Rice, relentless in his quest for elite conditioning, remains one of the few superstars who truly practices as hard as he plays.

"He's got singleness of purpose," Mora said. "He takes care of his body. He's meticulous in his preparation, meticulous in details. If his shirt would come untucked in practice, we'd have to stop everything so he could tuck it back in."

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