Jerry Rice is widely considered to be the greatest wide receiver in the history of the National Football League (NFL). While in college, he earned All-America honors and set 18 Division I-AA records. The San Francisco 49ers drafted Rice in the first round in 1985, the start of a 20-year career in which Rice won multiple Super Bowls and set 38 NFL records. Rice was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Jerry Lee Rice was born October 13, 1962, in Starkville, Mississippi. One of eight children, he was the son of a hardworking bricklayer who employed Rice and his brothers as his assistants during the hot Southern summers. It was grueling work, but Rice later came to be grateful for it. "It taught me the meaning of hard work," he said.
Early on, Rice proved himself to be a gifted runner, often cutting back and forth on the long dirt road that ran in front of his house. But it wasn't until high school that Rice discovered football. As the story goes, Rice had skipped classes one day and ran into an assistant principal. After sprinting away from him, Rice was eventually reprimanded. But his quickness was soon brought to the attention of the school's football coach, who put him in pads and had him line up as a receiver.
Rice quickly caught on to the game and became an offensive threat for the team. His talent was enough to catch the eyes of a few college scouts, and in the fall of 1981 he enrolled at Mississippi Valley State University.
Playing in the lowly regarded Southwestern Athletic Conference and on a team that often used a spread-the-field offensive attack, Rice's impressive offensive numbers were looked at skeptically by pro scouts. Still, it was impossible not to at least label him an intriguing prospect. Over his four-year college career, Rice hauled in 4,692 receiving yards and collected 18 Division I-AA records.
In the 1985 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected Rice with the 16th overall pick. That rookie season was an up-and-down year for Rice, who started off slow but gained momentum later in the year.
"I was thinking through every step of a complicated offense," he later admitted.
His second year was his breakout season. Teamed with veteran quarterback Joe Montana, Rice snagged 86 catches, including 15 touchdowns, and 1,570 receiving yards.
Rice followed it up with an even better season in 1987, earning Player of the Year honors and setting a new league record with 23 touchdowns. In the 1988 season, he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, where he caught 11 passes and was named the game's MVP.
Famous for his fitness level, Rice went on to play an unprecedented 20 NFL seasons, finally retiring in 2004. The majority of his career was played in a 49ers uniform, but he later caught passes for the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks.
Without a doubt the most prolific receiver in the NFL history, Rice retired with 38 NFL records to his name, including most career receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and touchdowns (197). Rice was named a member of the NFL's All-Decade Teams of the 1980s and 1990s as well as the league's 75th Anniversary Team.
"I've pushed my body for 20 years," Rice said at the press conference announcing his retirement. "I was never a couch potato, I was always working out. I had to prove myself every year."
In 2010, Rice, who won three Super Bowl rings with the 49ers, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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