and my very first hero. Jerry Rice formally announced his retirement today. He will retire as a 49er.
I have a little tribute to Jerry Rice that I'd like to write. I hope I don't bore you guys too much.
I almost cried last year when he said he didn't want to be Denver's 4th receiver. This finally brings closure to the best athlete to ever wear a football uniform.
Growing up, I was a 49er fan. I was born in Oakland (HISS, BOO!!!) but felt no allegiance to the East Bay teams (Raiders, A's). Instead, I became enamoured with the teams of San Francisco. I began watching the 49ers at the age of 5. My mom, my brother and I would cheer for Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Roger Craig, Tom Rathman, and Ronnie Lott as they dominated football in the 80's, while my Dad cheered for the rival Cowboys. This sure made for some fun Sunday afternoons.
Showing his true athleticism, he weathered the transition between Joe Montana and Steve Young with aplomb. He was the one constant between the dominating teams of the 80's, to the mildly threatening teams of the 90's. A lasting memory of mine will be Joe Montana night. Jerry Rice had suffered a knee injury being tackled earlier in the season and he busted his ass to get back in time for a late-season game against the Broncos, in which Joe Montana's number 16 was to be retired. The critics (and I'm sure the team did too) screamed that it was too early to come back from an injury of that magnitude. Rice didn't care. He wanted to honor the memory of his old teammate. He went all out that night, showing no regard for his still-healing knee. He laid out for a touchdown grab...and fractured his knee cap when his leg struck the ground. However, he held on to the ball.
I'll be honest, I was pissed when he went to the Oakland Raiders. Being an impassioned teenager at the time, I almost renounced my worship of Rice, and nearly tore up my number 80 jersey. However, I found out later that the 49ers really gave him no choice in the matter. I was happy to see him make it to the Super Bowl one last time (and, honestly, was glad to see them defeated by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
One of my happiest recent memories was when it was announced that the Seahawks made a mid-season trade to grab Jerry Rice from the Oakland Raiders. Steve Largent, in a great display of respect, granted Rice the use of his retired number 80. While living in the Bay Area, I was never able to make it to a 49er game. However, I finally got to see my boyhood hero play before my eyes when I saw the Seahawks take on the Carolina Panthers at Qwest Field. Granted, Rice only caught one pass (for 6 yards), I will remember it forever. I have to admit that I got a little misty-eyed when he caught that ball.
I can't even begin to relate to you all how much Jerry Rice meant to me as a player. Even when he was on the Raiders, I followed his career with fervor. He will be missed greatly.
If you guys would like to add any additional Jerry Rice thoughts, please feel free. It's fun to think back on the career of such a gifted player, and quality human being.