At one time or another, Jerry Rice held virtually every notable wide receiver record in the books. His single-season receiving yards and receiving touchdowns records both have fallen in the past 15 years, but his career records are going to stand for a while.
Many of his career records are unlikely to fall, but as the league continues to change the rules to benefit the passing game, it’s possible we could see some of them reached.
But there are two that I will bet all the money I don’t have we will never see broken. Rice was dominant in his 20s, but where things got crazy was his dominance into his 30s. That’s really where he put distance between himself and other receivers. His numbers after he turned 30 are Hall of Fame worthy on their own.
But where it goes from unbelievable impressive to entirely other-worldly is Rice’s performance after he turned 40. This post was inspired by Scott Kacsmar’s tweet showing the top ten players with most receiving yards after they turned 38.
Most receiving yards in NFL history at age 38+— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) June 24, 2018
1. Jerry Rice 4,453
2. Charlie Joiner 1,372
3. Irving Fryar 548
4. Joey Galloway 240
5. Tim Brown 200
6. Art Monk 114
7. Tony Richardson 41
8. TOM BRADY 36
9. Lorenzo Neal 35
10. Ricky Proehl 30
Look for @BenjaminSWatson in 2018.
Rice runs away with it, but the big reason for that is what he did after he turned 40. Pro Football Reference has a detailed database that allows you to search by just about any possible combination. I did a search based on players 40 years and older, focusing on receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. For yards and touchdowns, Jerry Rice is the only player on the list with 2,509 yards and 12 touchdowns. For receptions, he has 185, and there’s one other player on the list: Brett Favre. In 2009, the 40-year old Favre caught a pass for a two-yard loss against the then St. Louis Rams. My guess is he threw the pass and it was batted back into his hands for one of those freak receptions.
Anything is possible, but it’s hard to see many wide receivers playing to 40, let along making a significant contribution after they turn 40. Rice turned 40 on October 13, 2002. He played two more seasons after that, one with the Oakland Raiders, and one split between the Raiders and Seattle Seahawks. He went downhill quickly, but for the 2002 season (before and after he turned 40), he finished with 92 receptions for 1,211 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s insane.
Rice recently appeared in ESPN the Magazine’s Body Issue to talk about maintaining his fitness into his 50s. He turns 56 this coming October, and he said he felt like he could still go out there and play. It’s been a long time since he turned 40, but given his freakish nature, I don’t see how he couldn’t haul in at least a few passes to really push the record books!
Here’s a rundown of his post-40 numbers, with links to the PFR database search.