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Niners Nation Interview with Jerry Rice

The 49ers legend, Jerry Rice, took some time out of his day at the Van Heusen Fall photo shoot to answer some questions for Niners Nation.

Thearon W. Henderson

Jerry Rice is widely considered to be the best wide receiver, if not the best all around football player, in the history of the NFL. He holds every significant receiving record known to man and had a work ethic unsurpassed by any other player, ever.

Rice is a part of the Van Heusen family, along with former 49ers quarterback, Steve Young, and was in the Bay Area last week for the Fall 2014 photo shoot. In addition to all of his other responsibilities, he was gracious enough to give Niners Nation some of his time.

Jerry, unlike Steve, has always had an eye for fashion and has always been thought of as putting his best foot forward, so his pairing with Young and Van Heusen is no shock. Jerry was always concerned with looking his best on game day, but since he retired, his game days look a little different. Finding success as a television analyst and in his other countless endeavors has allowed him to remain competitive, but you might be shocked as to whether he would be willing to get back into the NFL in some capacity.

Niners Nation (NN) – What was it about Van Heusen that made you feel like it was a great fit?

Jerry Rice (JR) – I was always one of those guys that always felt like if you look good, you’re going to play well. It’s the same way with this company and with what they are doing with so many guys. They are just trying to change America a little bit.

NN – What stuck out to you about Cameron that made him your choice for the Achieve with Steve internship?

JR – There were over 1,000 applicants and Cameron just stuck out to me.  He lives in Louisville now and he just showed the energy, the passion, and the personal style.  Now he gets a chance to hang out with Steve Young [and I] for a week, he gets a chance to be at the Fall 2014 photo shoot, and I just found out he was a receiver also!

NN – I watched you do an interview with Dave Dameshek before the Super Bowl and he asked you who you thought the second best wide receiver ever was.  You said you were going to do your research and figure it out, so have you come to a final conclusion?

JR – I still…I have a hard time when people say that I am the greatest. I knew I wanted to do something special in the NFL and I didn’t just want to follow, I wanted to be a leader and I wanted to set the standard.

I played a sport that I really enjoyed and I was able to entertain so many people and break so many records, but when I hear people say that, it’s like, I’m just a country boy. I remember saying, in my Mississippi accent, "I wanna be the best receiver to play the game." That came out of my mouth!

I just worked hard and I was very fortunate to have so many guys around me, but there are so many other great receivers out there. Look at Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Marvin Harrison, Dwight Clark, Lynn Swan, and Freddie Solomon…that list just goes on and on, man. I was really blessed when I came in to have two great guys kind of take me under their wing and show me how to be a professional. [They showed me] how you should work and how you should conduct yourself on and off the football field.

NN – Who was side-by-side with you in your preparation on game day?  Who did you know would be just as prepared as you were come opening snap?

JR – We had a lot of guys.  You look at Roger Craig; Roger would train with me during the offseason. Then J.J. Stokes and Terrell Owens came on board, so we had guys really working during the offseason. Back in the day, we felt like we needed to put the time in and [that would allow you to] excel on the football field, be in the best shape of your life, and nothing is holding you back.

NN – A lot of wide receivers in today’s game get labeled as divas.  Is that a fair label and what has changed from when you suited up to today’s game?

JR – I think it probably started with Chad Johnson, you know, Ocho Cinco, and Terrell Owens. As a receiver, you have to be cocky in a way, but it has to be conducive to your team; you can’t be a distraction or anything like that.

That was something we did [when I played]. Yes, we were cocky. We wanted the football. We felt like we could win the football game, but when it becomes a distraction, that becomes a different story.

You know, you hear that a lot about divas, but you still have guys like Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, and Reggie Wayne out there. They do it the old fashion way.

NN – What was your best memory of Bill Walsh?

JR – Legend. Legend. Bill Walsh was the type of coach you wanted to lay it on the line for. The guy could be your best friend or he could be your worst enemy. There was a look [he’d give] so that you never got comfortable.  He always kept you on edge and I think that’s why we were able to do such great things on the football field.

My coming out game was on a Monday night against the Rams and I had 10 catches, over 240 yards, and two touchdowns and that was my coming out party. Bill called me up to his office, and I’m thinking he’s going to finally pat me on my back and say, "Good job, Jerry." So I head up to his office and I’m just kind of sitting there and he just looked at me with this stone look on his face and he says, "I want more from you." I was like, Okay, wait. I just gave you over 200 yards, 10 catches and two touchdowns and you want more? I think he did that so I wouldn’t get complacent because he was that type of coach.

NN – What are your thoughts on Eddie DeBartolo?

JR – Eddie was like the 12th man. (Author’s note: Not like Seattle’s 12th man, but better, because of the following.) He would give you everything you could ever want. Travel was first class, the hotels were first class and all he wanted was to win Super Bowls, and we did. We were able to build that dynasty, man. When I came in, we already had that tradition, so I had to come in and find my way. That dynasty was being built and you had to be a part of that puzzle to fit in.

NN – You had a chance to work with Jim Harbaugh in Oakland for a couple of seasons, is he the same person he was or has he changed?

JR – You know, I could never get a feel for Jim in Oakland. Jim is a very exceptional guy and the players love playing for him. He is not the kind of guy who is going to run [and put on a show] for the media. Like, during the Super Bowl in New Orleans, he showed up in his khakis and his black sweatshirt and his brother showed up in a suit and tie. He’s just different, but he has that team in the right mindset. I think he is doing an exceptional job.

NN – The 49ers have Jed York, Trent Baalke, and Jim Harbaugh leading this team.  Do you see this leadership group being reminiscent of the early 90’s teams before they got to the Super Bowl and won?

JR – I think they are very close. When you have been in that position for three years, you know the door may start to close. You know you won’t have the same players, players move on to different teams and stuff like that, but I feel like this group could be there. Jed feels a lot like Eddie D. to me. He really doesn’t want to be like him, but when you see him in his demeanor, he is a lot like Eddie. I don’t know if he is being coached or getting information from Eddie, but he is in a great position, but they are going to have to go through Seattle.

NN – Have you given any thought to coaching or being a consultant in any way or are you happy with your analyst role and the rest of your life post-NFL?

JR – You know what, I miss the competition a lot, but I feel like there were just so many years I have given to football. I mean, really, really devoted myself and as a coach, you’re probably going to have to make a commitment all over again and you really don’t have that much time. As a counselor or something, yes, that’s something I would do in a heartbeat. You know, I would love to be able to pass this information along to these guys and let the young guys know that there is a responsibility that comes along with being a San Francisco 49er.