If you ask who the greatest quarterback of all time is, you are going to get a debate. There should be no debate when talking wide receivers, though. Without a doubt, Jerry Rice is the best receiver to ever lace up his cleats. Rice was an incredibly dominant player who racked up records, mostly with the 49ers. Here’s a retrospective of Rice’s career, from his humble beginnings to his climb to the pinnacle of his position.
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Starting life in Mississippi
Rice came from a tiny town called Crawford, Mississippi, the son of a brick mason. He attended high school in Oktoc, Mississippi, but didn’t play football until his sophomore year, purportedly after running away from the principal when he was truant, after which the principal told the football coach of his speed. Whether or not that is simply a cute anecdote made up after the fact we don’t know, but that’s the story.
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Rice chooses Mississippi Valley State University
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You would think a future superstar would have a ton of offers from colleges, but Rice came from a small town. Somehow, he slipped through the cracks. Rice ended up attending Mississippi Valley State University, a Division I-AA school. Yes, the future hall of famer was a Delta Devil in college.
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Record breaking college career
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Rice was an absolute beast at the college level, unsurprisingly. In 1983, he set NCAA record for receptions (102) and receiving yards (1,450), and set a single-game record with 24 catches against Southern University. In 1984, the Delta Devils averaged 57 points per game, and Rice set even more records. He broke his own Division I-AA record for catches (112) and yards (1,845) and broke the NCAA record with 27 touchdown receptions. Despite being a receiver at the I-AA level, Rice finished ninth in the Heisman voting.
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The 49ers trade up to draft Rice
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NFL scouts didn’t miss out on Rice despite his small-school career. Reportedly both the Cowboys and the 49ers, heated rivals, wanted to take him in the first round. The Cowboys had the 17th pick, while the 49ers were picking last in the first round because they had just won the Super Bowl. However, the 49ers wouldn’t be deterred, and traded up to the 16th pick to snag Rice before Dallas could.
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The USFL also makes a play for Rice
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Rice was the 16th pick in the 1985 NFL Draft, but the USFL thought even more highly of him. In fact, the Birmingham Stallions picked Rice first overall in the 1985 USFL Draft. Rice would never play in the USFL, though, and the league would fold after the 1986 season.
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A solid rookie season leads to a breakout sophomore campaign
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Rice had some issues with drops as a rookie – it was a big jump from I-AA football – but he still managed 49 catches for 927 yards, including a game with 10 receptions for 241 yards. After he got his footing under him, though, Rice broke out in his second season. He led the NFL in receiving yards (1,570) and receiving touchdowns (15), and not for the last time.
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Rice wins Offensive Player of the Year
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The 1987 NFL season was shortened by a strike, but that didn’t stop Rice from absolutely dominated. He won the Offensive Player of the Year that season, and the players and the Pro Football Writers Association both named him the league MVP, an incredible feat for a wide receiver.
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Rich sets the touchdown record
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Why all the awards for Rice in 1987? Well, 1,078 yards in only 12 games didn’t hurt, but it was really about the touchdowns. Rice scored a whopping 22 receiving touchdowns, which was a record until Randy Moss notched 23 touchdowns in 2007. That was in 16 games, mind you. Rice pulled off his feat in 12 games. No other receiver that season had more than 11.
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Winning the Super Bowl MVP
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Rice had a solid season in 1988, including averaging 20.4 yards per reception, but it’s his Super Bowl performance that really impressed. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, Rice reeled in 11 catches for 215 yards and a touchdown. Rice won Super Bowl MVP, the third receiver to ever do that.
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Another big Super Bowl performance
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We’re talking the 49ers, so of course we have another Super Bowl to mention. Rice had 17 touchdowns in the 1989 season, and he added three more in the Super Bowl as the Niners got another win. This time, he didn’t win the MVP, though.
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Rice wins the receiving Triple Crown
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San Fran could not pull off the three-peat in 1990, but Rice did everything he could. He finished the year with 100 catches for 1,502 yards and 13 touchdowns. Rice led the league in all three of those categories, making him the first receiver to ever top all three stats in the same season. Only two players have done that since.
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Setting records, winning another Super Bowl
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Rice began the 1994 season by breaking the NFL record for career touchdowns. By the end of the season he ranked second in career receptions. During the Super Bowl, he once again reeled in three touchdowns as the 49ers trounced the Chargers for another Super Bowl ring.
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Injuries end Rice’s Pro Bowl streak
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Part of why Rice was able to be so prolific if that he was able to stay healthy. That is, until the 1997 season when Rice torn his ACL and MCL when he got yanked down by the facemask by Warren Sapp. It ended a streak of 189 consecutive games played. Rice return later that year but injuries his knee, causing him to miss the Pro Bowl for the first time in 11 seasons.
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Rice leaves San Francisco for Oakland
After his injury-ridden campaign Rice had a couple more seasons in San Francisco that weren’t up to his lofty standards, but were quite impressive for his age. With Terrell Owens now in San Francisco, Rice left the Niners after the 2000 season, moving across the Bay to sign with the Oakland Raiders.
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A resurgence and another Super Bowl appearance
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Rice enjoyed a bit of a resurgence after putting on the black and silver. He had 83 catches for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns in 2001, and 92 catches for 1,211 yards and seven touchdowns in 2002, making his 13th Pro Bowl. The Raiders made the Super Bowl that season, and while Rice caught a touchdown, his team was beat by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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Rice is traded to Seattle
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As a 41-year-old, Rice was traded from the Raiders to the Seahawks six games into the season. Not quite the receiver he once was, Rice managed 362 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games with the Seahawks. Impressively, given when he was traded, Rice played in 17 games in a 16-game season.
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Rice retires a 49er
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After the 2004 season, Rice tried to catch on with the Broncos, but it didn’t work out. Given that, he decided to hang up the cleats, signing a one-day deal with the 49ers so he could retire as a “member” of the team. It was ceremonial, but it was the only fitting way for things to end.
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The Hall of Fame comes calling
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There is zero surprise that Rice is on the Football Hall of Fame, and that he made it in the first year he was eligible. The 2010 class was headlined by not just Rice, but Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith, the leader in career rushing yards.
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TV work, and dancing with the stars
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Like a lot of former NFL greats, Rice has done some TV work since retiring. He spent a little time with ESPN, but left that job several years ago. Rice also did a stint on “Dancing With the Stars,” finishing second. Sadly for Niners fans, Drew Lachey won that season.
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The greatest receiver ever
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Rice owns an incredible number of NFL records. He has the most career receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. He also has the most all-purpose yards and all-purpose touchdowns. Rice had over 1,000 yards receiving in 14 seasons. He’s the only player with over 200 career touchdowns. When you think of how much more passing there is these days, it’s truly incredible that no modern receiver has beaten Rice’s records. He is truly a once-in-a-lifetime player.