Now that the 49ers offseason is in full swing, it seemed like a great time to start back up with the NIners Nation All-Time Team. We added one position midseason, WR #2. Congratulations to John Taylor who pulled away from Terrell Owens to make the team. Now that we're in the offseason we'll fill up the rest of the team and also get to our Niners Nation All-Time Bums team (name to be determined).
Rather than open with a vote, I figued we'd start with a position that requires absolutely no vote. If you think a vote is necessary for this position, then I'm guessing you either are not a 49ers fan or really think democracy is awesome.
Yes, we're talking about the Niners Nation all-time team #1 wide receiver, G.O.A.T. himself, Jerry Rice. As far as I'm concerned, Jerry Rice is not just the greatest wide receiver of all time, but the greatest football player of all time. He shredded the record books in a way that could only be compared to someone like Wayne Gretzky. Just consider the fact that if you eliminate the four seasons he played outside of San Francisco, he'd still easily hold every receiving record in the books. He holds NFL career records for receptions, receiving yards, total touchdowns, consecutive games with a reception and most points by a non-kicker. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
We all know the story of Jerry Rice coming out of unheralded Mississippi Valley State and proceeded to just torch the NFL. The most amazing part is how nobody really wanted him coming out of high school even though he was All-State as a defensive back, not even Ole Miss or nearby Mississippi State. Rice says the MVSU coach was the only head coach to come see him in person.
What I find most amazing about Jerry Rice is that while he was certainly a talented player, he was never the fastest or biggest guy out there. He willed himself to become the greatest and that's seen in his legendary offseason hill runs. Guys like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens bring outrageous size and speed to the wide receiver position and are appropriately recognized as great receivers. While it might be easy to say, well imagine the records Rice would have broken with the speed and jump of Moss or the raw physicality of TO. However, I think Rice willed himself to greatness because of the lack of size or so-called 40 speed. He was not quite along the lines of Larry Bird (too slow, can't jump, can't shoot, etc.), but he was underestimated coming out of college (two wide receivers went ahead of him).
One knock on Rice was his ego. However, to be the greatest, you have to think you're the greatest. Jerry Rice believed he was the greatest and the stats back him up. Furthermore, his teams obviously won Super Bowls and spent most of their time in the playoffs. So even if his teammates hated him (not saying that's the case), it didn't affect the on-field team product.
I'll close with a brief story about why I'm more than a little more than biased towards Jerry Rice. In April of 2007 I was fortunate enough to attend Rice's induction ceremony into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame. Thanks to where I worked at the time, I was able to get up into the pre-ceremony VIP reception. All the inductees came in and were milling around with their handlers. At one point Rice was separated from his handler and standing by myself. I quickly pounced and struck up a conversation with him. Someone interrupted our conversation and it looked he was going to guide Rice somewhere else. I started to back away and Rice put a hand on my shoulder and told me to hang on one second. After he finished talking to that person we continued our conversation for a couple more minutes.
I realize it's not the biggest thing in the world, but given the size of the crowd and the event in question, the fact that he was willing to take a couple minutes to talk to some fan meant a lot. It leaves me a little more biased towards his greatness, but I don't see anything wrong with that. It wasn't even that he could have just been a complete prick. If he'd gone off to talk to everybody else I would not have been surprised given the circumstances. Even as a 20-something sports fan that recognizes the reality of how athletes can be, having a positive encounter like this still makes me feel like a kid.