Monday, September 19, 2005

An underrated legend

With so much happening around the National Football League in the days before the season's start, the retirement of Jerry Rice barely made a blip on one 24-hour news cycle.

The dearth of coverage is understandable. Rice walked away in a foreign uniform, on his fourth team in as many years, about three years after he should have retired. He has been an inconsequential player for three years.

But recent history should not overshadow his overall greatness. And considering the month's worth of blowjobs given to Lance Armstrong by the American media prior to his retirement, Rice deserved far better.

In my book, he is one of the five best American athletes of the 20th century, and easily the most underrated of a group that includes Muhammad Ali, Jim Thorpe, Jim Brown, Babe Ruth and Rice.

Perhaps in a later entry, I can describe my reasoning for the above five. For today, I'd like to keep the focus on Rice.

Just as Brown redefined the running back position in the NFL, Rice forced a fundamental shift in the way defenses approached covering receivers.

And although his production slackened over the last three years as he approached his retirement age of 42, he played at an elite level for 17 seasons at a position where the window for success is often less than five years.

While an aging quarterback can rely on instincts and guile to supplement his loss of athleticism or a running back can still succed using brute power alone, a receiver does not have such luxuries.

Except for perhaps cornerback, no NFL position is more succeptible to aging than receiver. You lose any speed, that half-step advantage over a defender, and your career is finished. The difference between elite and the waiver wire is two-tenths of a second.

For Rice to remain in an elite bracket for 17 of his 20 seasons is inconceivable. Because of his longevity, he holds every vital receiving record -- and by mostly huge margins.

Take a look at his key records:

Most career receptions
1. Rice 1,549
2. Cris Carter 1,101
3. Tim Brown 1,094

Most consecutive games with a reception
1. Rice 274
2. Monk 183

Most seasons of 50-plus receptions
1. Rice 17
2. Andre Reed 13

Most career yards
1. Rice 22,895
2. Tim Brown 14,934
3. James Lofton 14,004

Most yards, single season
1. Rice 1,848
2. Isaac Bruce 1,781

Most career 100-yard games
1. Rice 76
2. Don Maynard 50

Most seasons of 1,000-plus yards
1. Rice 14
2. Brown 9

Most career touchdowns
1. Rice 197
2. Carter 130
3. Steve Largent 100

Most touchdowns, single season
1. Rice 22
2. Mark Clayton 18

Most consecutive games with a touchdown
1. Rice 13
2. Elroy Hirsch 11

I could continue, but I think you get the point. Rice owns every significant record, often with room to spare. NFL legends at other positions do not dominate the record book like that.

Take a look:

Most career yards
1. Dan Marino 61,361
2. John Elway 51,475

Highest career completion percentage
1. Kurt Warner 65.9
2. Daunte Culpepper 64.37

Highest completion percentage, single season
1. Ken Anderson 70.55
2. Sammy Baugh 70.33

Career seasons leading league in yardage
1. (tie) Sammy Baugh, Steve Young 6

Most career touchdowns
1. Marino 420
2. Brett Favre 374

Most consecutive passes without an interception
1. Bernie Kosar 308
2. Bart Starr 294

Records at running back:

Seasons leading league in yardage
1. Jim Brown 8
2. Multiple players with 4

Career yards
1. Emmitt Smith 18,355
2. Walter Payton 16,726

Most yards, single season
1. Eric Dickerson 2,105
2. Jamal Lewis 1,066

Games over 200 yards
1. O.J. Simpson 6
2. Brown 4

Games over 100 yards, single season
1. Barry Sanders 14
2. Dickerson 12

Highest career average yards per carry
1. Brown 5.22
2. Mercury Morris 5.14

Career touchdowns
1. Smith 164
2. Marcus Allen 123

My point in listing all of these records is not to inundate you with statistics, but to demonstrate that, at other offensive positions, you can manipulate the record book to support a particular player as the "best ever." Many different names occupy those No. 1 spots.

You cannot do that at wide receiver. The case is closed.

Through a combination of longevity at a position where the word is nonexistent, speed and precision, Rice became the preeminent player of our time.

The lack of fervor surrounding his retirement can be attributed to his humble attitude -- he does not pout like Terrell Owens, whose lengthy spat with the Philadelphia Eagles claimed much more TV time during Rice's good-bye.

Rice also does not need bucket-loads of commercial endorsements or hype -- he is Michael Jordan without the marketing.

All he needs is a training regimen that his former coaches and teammates have called the most brutal and intense they have ever seen. It was enough to elevate his play at receiver into an art form. He was dedicated, determined and successful beyond imagination.



At 1:39 PM, Blogger Dan said...

I'm sure it thrilled you to be able to squeeze Bernie Kosar into this entry.

At 7:17 PM, Blogger Pete said...


You know it did.

Hey, he holds the record, and it's an impressive one. Alas, I am willing to concede he is not one of the great all-time quarterbacks.

Otto Graham, however, is.

Here's an interesting note:

Neil O'Donnell has the lowest interception percentage in NFL history, having only 2.11 percent of his passes picked off.

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Erik said...

I have to agree with you and I have never seen such an interesting analysis of records. I feel bad for the guy, but what a career.

He's definitely near the top of all time athletes...I was pleased to see Lance wasn't on there. Afterall, he rides a bike. So he's got the strongest legs of all time.

At 12:18 AM, Blogger Pete said...

Lance wouldn't qualify because my list was of 20th century athletes, and the bulk of Mr. Crow's accomplishments have occurred sinc 2000.


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