Jerry Rice, yes, THE Jerry Rice, greatest receiver of all-time, Pro Football Hall of Famer, is promoting a program entitled My City is My Gym, sponsored by Gillette Odor Shield. Over the last weekend, he was involved in the San Francisco version of that event. He was kind enough to speak with us regarding his career, as well as thoughts on Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, Dancing With the Stars, and Steve Young’s golf game.
Q: One of the things you had to overcome was the injury in 1997. One of the great stories from this year is Adrian Peterson. He hurt his knee at the end of the year, and he already has more rushing yards than he had last year at this point. Just from your experience, how hard was it to get physically and mentally back after such an injury?
Jerry Rice: I have to really commend AP for what he is doing out on the football field. Just watching him right now, he’s still very explosive, he’s making all the cuts, and I would say he’s probably 100% right now. I was unsure at first, when he was rushing back, I said that there was no way. This guy should take his time, because if you have any type of swelling in that knee, it’s telling you that it’s not ready to go. He felt like he was ready. He got out there, and he’s doing a fantastic job.
It’s very difficult when you sustain an injury because you have to fight through that mentally as well as physically. I think what he is doing is amazing. To be able to take all that punishment, still make all those cuts, and after making those cuts, to be explosive and to run away from guys, it just shows that this guy is a hard worker. Also, I would say age is really in his favor because he is a young guy.
Q: Another player that is having an unusual year, Calvin Johnson, is widely recognized as one of the best wide receivers if not the best. He had a huge year last year, and he’s putting up yards this year, but only has one touchdown [note: this interview was done before Calvin scored his second touchdown Sunday]. Have you ever had a stretch where things came up just short, and how did you get through that?
Jerry Rice: You know, it’s very frustrating because he’s putting up yardage, and he’s not getting in the end zone. I don’t know if that’s an area where he and Matthew Stafford need to work on just a little bit more. Everything is going to get tighter down by the red zone, and everything is going to be a little bit more confined. You’ve got to be precise, and the quarterback has got to be on the same page as you are. You have to have that chemistry there.
I’m very surprised that he’s not getting in the end zone, but it could also be that defensive coordinators are taking him away down toward the end zone, and some of those other receivers have to step up and take pressure off, so he can get some one on one coverage.
Q: Everybody knows you caught passes from Joe Montana and Steve Young when you were with the 49ers, but do you remember the other quarterbacks in San Francisco that you caught passes from?
Jerry Rice: I think Elvis Grbac, also Matt Cavanaugh . . . (pause)
Q: You got Matt Cavanaugh, and he started only one game early in your career. Also, does the name Mike Moroski ring a bell, then there was Steve Bono and Jeff Kemp.
Jerry Rice: Yes, yes, yes, Steve Bono. So there’s really only five guys, right?
Q: Here’s one of the amazing stats, looking back at your career. You averaged with all of those other quarterbacks–Grbac, Cavanaugh, Moroski, Kemp, and Bono–you averaged 1,451 yards and 16 touchdowns over a 16 game season, spread out over many years. How did you handle dealing with those various quarterbacks and still produce numbers that, let’s be honest, are career numbers for most other receivers?
Jerry Rice: I think I was able to adjust to those guys, and the strength of those guys. With Steve Young, totally different quarterback than Joe Montana. So everything that I had learned with Joe, I had to throw that on the back burner and adjust to Steve and make him a better quarterback.
I think I did that with all the guys. Just running precise routes, being able to also be like a quarterback on the football field, read defenses, know when there’s a man to man, know when there is a zone, to sit down in those open areas where he can have a line to get the ball out of his hand.
Q: I’ve got several follow ups to that, so did you ever say to any of these guys “get me the ball, because we’ll make plays.”
Jerry Rice: You know, I never demanded the ball, I never tried to put pressure on whoever was behind center. My thing was, I felt that if I ran good routes, and if I had separation, that those guys had to throw me the football because I was wide open.
So my thing I focused in on running good routes, getting separation, and giving them a line where they don’t have to hold on to the football, and I think that’s why we had so much production out there on the football field.
Q: Speaking of knowing the coverages and understanding, obviously receiver is a position that requires physical skills that most people don’t have, but can you be an elite receiver if you don’t understand say, the whole play design, and the purpose even if you are not the primary.
Jerry Rice: No, no, no, no, no, if you don’t know the scheme, and how to catch on real fast, because a lot of stuff happens on the snap of the ball. As I’m going downfield, I’m still trying to read the defense. I’m trying to see what the linebackers are doing inside, what the safeties are doing.
I think that’s what happening in the NFL right now. You don’t see these guys focusing on reading defenses, knowing when it’s a zone and when it’s a man. That’s when you see all these big devastating hits, you’ve got guys running through zones when they are supposed to sit down, they’re thinking it’s man to man, and the quarterback has no choice but to get the ball out of his hand.
Q: You talked about how different Steve Young and Joe Montana were, what were some specific things you had to do differently to catch pass from Young, who was more of a scrambler, compared to Montana?
Jerry Rice: Yeah, I think with Joe Montana, they used to call him Joe Cool, he knew where the primary, secondary, third receiver, and he was the type of quarterback where he’s not going to hold on to the ball that long. I knew I had to run good routes and get out of my cut because the ball was already in the air.
Now, Steve was a little bit different when he first took over that job because he was more of a running quarterback. So it took him some time where he became more of a pocket passer. Then the guy all of a sudden he noticed my body language, the way I came out of my routes, and he could predict when I was getting ready to come out, so we developed that same chemistry. I think that’s why we were able to score around 80 touchdowns or more. [Note: Jerry Rice and Steve Young connected for 85 career touchdowns]
Q: You were inducted in the Hall of Fame a couple of years ago, and also when the NFL Network ran their Top 100 Players, you were selected as #1 on the list just ahead of Jim Brown. That’s fun for the fans, but how meaningful was it to you?
Jerry Rice: That’s a great accomplishment, because this is, you are voted on probably by your peers, and everyone on the network, that they feel like you brought something that was really special. Normally, skill players like a running back or wide receiver–well, a running back I can understand because he’s going to get more touches, I’m going to get less touches–whenever I got an opportunity I had to produce and put points on the board. So, it just says a lot about my dedication, my hard work, and that I was a complete team player and I always wanted to go out there and win.
Q: Now, we know Jim Brown is a competitor, have you talked to him since then, has he forgiven you for being ahead of him on that list?
Jerry Rice: You know what, Jim and I–I have run into him so many times–Jim is the type of guy, if he doesn’t respect you, he’s not going to talk to you. So, every time we got together, we would hold a conversation, we would talk about so many things. I think he really respected the way I played the game, that I would go out there and not take a play off, that I would always give 100%, so I think I earned his respect.
Q: One of the things you were renowned for was your workouts during your career. You are currently working on a project with Gillette Odor Shield where you promote workouts in an urban setting. Can you tell us about that?
Jerry Rice: The concept is My City is My Gym. I’m one of those guys that I’m still active, I enjoy working out, I like having fun. This is all about going outdoors and getting a workout in. You can go to a park, and you can utilize a bench, something like that where you can do pushups or you can do dips. If you have boxes or something like that, you can work on your explosion by jumping on boxes.
This campaign by Gillette Odor Shield is all about getting people outdoors, because research shows that it has a positive effect on your mental health. Just five minutes outdoors a day is going to improve your mood and also your self-esteem. If you don’t have the money to go the gym, you can always get outdoors and get a good work out in.
Q: Turning to off the field stuff, my wife got to know you with Dancing With the Stars. Now they just did a reunion show this fall, was that something you chose not to be involved in the second time around, after you had done pretty well?
Jerry Rice: Well, you know, I think if I didn’t have so much going on and so many things going on at that time with ESPN, and all of my endorsement stuff, and also my work off the field out there in the community, then I would have gone back and done the All Stars. The guys that are out there competing right now, they are very competitive, very good dancers.
I have a skit that I have to do next week, we call Dance Center, with Kenny Mayne, and also Lynn, where we get the opportunity to critique these guys and also talk about their weaknesses and their strengths, and all of that. That’s a lot of fun, but if I didn’t have all of that going on off the field, I would have went back and did Dancing With the Stars.
Q: So would it appeal to you to do a shorter version, maybe one or two episodes, with you going against Donald Driver and Hines Ward and all of the other NFL guys that have competed?
Jerry Rice: Yeah, you know what, it would be just as competitive, and I know how those guys are and they did a fantastic job. They were able to win that trophy, it’s almost like because we are so competitive–and I didn’t like coming in second place, I came in second to Drew Lachey. If you come in second, that’s just like not winning it. So yeah, I would love to get back out there, if it was a shorter version where we could compete, I know those guys would probably take it seriously and it would be a lot of fun.
Q: Now, you just turned 50, but you are probably younger than most of us. What have you got on your plate to keep that fire going and stay young?
Jerry Rice: You know what, I’m just going to continue working out, doing a lot with ESPN, getting out in the community, Steve Young and I have a tournament every year, and we do a lot of commercials together, we have a lot of fun with Van Heusen.
We’ve got so much going on, and I’m just happy I was able to make that transition after football, because it was very difficult because I played twenty years and that was everything to me. That was my main focus.
Now you enter the second half of your life, and I have so many opportunities out there. I think it has to do with how successful I was on the football field, then Dancing With the Stars introduced a whole new demographic, so expect to see more of me.
Q: Now, you mentioned doing a golf tournament with Steve Young, who’s better, you or Steve?
Jerry Rice: No, no, I’m better than Steve (laughs). I’m better than Steve. You would not believe this guy, because for some reason, Steve and I developed this relationship, and people like when I’m around , because I have a tendency to loosen him up a bit, especially if we are doing a Van Heusen commercial or something like that. He’s a totally different guy, and it’s just a lot of fun. We did some great things on the football field, but we’re still doing some amazing things off of it.
[photos via US Presswire, Jerry Rice]