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The G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time for all you pre Hip Hop generation readers!)
MINNESOTA—Earlier this week a sports legend announced his retirement from the NFL and fans of pro football everywhere now have a void in their hearts due to his departure. Jerry Rice is the greatest receiver of all time and there is little argument to that fact. Whereas arguments about quarterbacks, running backs, and linebackers may leave the title of greatest of all time to spirited debates and personal preferences, the crown of greatest wide receiver of all time is fairly simple. Rice has more catches for more yards, which resulted in more touchdowns than any other wide receiver in NFL history. It really is as simple as that.
Tony Kornheiser of ESPN has been quoted as saying that a wide receiver’s job is simple. He is supposed to “catch the ball and put in into the end zone.” If we use this model for measuring a receiver’s competence then Jerry Rice is a wonderful sculpture for every receiver to emulate. As the prototype receiver for Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense, (to which Joe Montana was the idyllic quarterback and Roger Craig the ideal fit at running back) Rice perfected the art of catching, eluding or breaking tackles, and then scoring the football. How many times did we witness highlights of Rice taking a simple 7-yard slant and turning it into a 35-yard touchdown? How many times did we see Rice sprinting up a sideline with helpless defensive backs flailing at his jersey? More times than any other wide receiver in the history of the game.
Anyone lucky enough to see Jerry Rice perform in a game could see a few things that further separated him from the mere mortals also claiming to be wide receivers. There was not a route Rice could not run perfectly, from the slant to the fly to the up and out, Jerry Rice’s route running was his greatest attribute. A sure fire way to determine if a person has truly mastered his art when his performances can be used as tutorials. Jerry Rice is the most definitive example of how to be a wide receiver in the history of football. If there are any aspiring wide receivers out there, get a hold of game film containing Jerry Rice. Notice how precisely he runs his routes, making sharp cuts and always knowing where he is on the field. Notice how he makes subtle moves to get cornerbacks out of position and create separation from the press coverage typically employed to disrupt short, timing based passing routes. There is no defense for a perfect route and Jerry Rice’s career is a testament to that fact.
If route running was Rice’s greatest attribute, his catching ability was a close second. When football gurus discuss receivers with wonderful hands a few names come up. Art Monk, Chris Carter and most recently Chad Johnson or Marvin Harrison. Jerry Rice trumps them all. For every perfect route Rice ran during his stellar 20-year career, each one was finished off by an effortless catch. His technique was flawless, whether it be catching the quick pass from Montana, thumbs together and looking the ball into his hands, or the bomb from Young over his shoulder and into the cradle his hands created, Jerry Rice made the difficult look routine and the impossible look attainable. Rice’s awesome catching ability, as well as his above average speed and underrated physical strength, is a tribute to his tireless preparation and conditioning both in season and out. Always the proverbial “workout warrior” Jerry Rice proved that hard work, coupled with the good Lord’s blessings can transform a kid from small school in Mississippi into a NFL starter, perennial Pro Bowler and Super Bowl MVP.
The retirement of Jerry Rice causes football fans everywhere to look for an heir apparent to the legacy of the Greatest of All Time. Who can combine talent, work ethic and desire like he did and etch his name in the pantheon of greats that Rice has placed himself amongst? As a fan, I’ll enjoy watching them try.