Colorful Rice still waiting for recognition

ORLANDO, Fla. -- He is funny, engaging, articulate in his own Planet Simeon kind of way, an entrepreneur who developed his own sports apparel line, is fine-tuning a screenplay that has been several years in the making and, oh yeah, is one of the NFL's premier sack threats.

So why, Tampa Bay Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice wondered aloud Sunday, does he merit so little national attention?

Good question.

"People talk about raising the bar at a position," said Rice, shaking his head. "When it comes to defensive ends, maybe defensive players, period, I am the bar. Nothing against any of those other guys, like Michael Strahan or Dwight Freeney, but there's no comparison. But when people talk about the premier defensive players in the league, blasé this and blasé that, I don't even get mentioned. I'm not asking for respect, but when people start talking about difference makers, please, my name deserves to at least be a part of the discussion."

It is hard to argue with Rice, even more difficult to wedge a word in edgewise when the 10-year veteran end gets on one of his machine-gun-like rolls, but the man does have a pretty compelling argument. Rice enters this season with 119 sacks, the 13th most in NFL history. By comparison, Strahan has 10½ more sacks but has played three more seasons than Rice has. Rice's 56½ sacks are the most in the NFL over the past four seasons, and his career average of 11.9 sacks per year leads all active league defenders. He has eight double-digit sack seasons, Strahan six, and Rice ranks fifth in NFL history in the number of seasons with 10 or more sacks: eight.

Plus, as Rice accurately noted, he is one of the NFL's most colorful personalities, which should qualify him as a media darling. Instead, he mostly is viewed as an enigma.

Although it has been six years since Rice left the Arizona Cardinals and signed in Tampa Bay as a free agent, he still is burdened by the knock his former employers put on him, the one about how he wouldn't play the run and simply wanted to rush the quarterback. And his reputation was dented three years ago when he was dismissed from the Pro Bowl squad for not going to practice.

"People talk about raising the bar at a position. When it comes to defensive ends, maybe defensive players, period, I am the bar. Nothing against any of those other guys, like Michael Strahan or Dwight Freeney, but there's no comparison."
Simeon Rice, Bucs defensive end

Those things have made him a bit of a pariah.

Too bad, too, because the folks who don't take the time to sit down with Rice, outfitted Sunday in camo pants and a tank top, and about as physically cut as a player could be, are missing a good show. There are two things you can take to the bank with Rice: He's going to get double-digit sacks every year, and he's going to fill up your tape recorder with entertaining, but also insightful, material.

This latest visit with Rice, though, was a little different, in that he seemed legitimately wounded that, after 10 seasons in the league, he is still not a household name. How upset is Rice about the slight?

"I almost left camp, walked out, ended it," Rice claimed. "I mean, when I reported here, I wasn't sure that I had it in my fiber to go through this again. I really had to search deep into my soul to ask myself if this is what I want to keep doing."

He won't, Rice said, do it forever.

"I'm not into it for Pro Bowl [recognition]," Rice said. "Heck, I went to the Pro Bowl and they sent me home, you know? The numbers, they don't mean much to me, and they don't define me. I'm not going to hang around just to set records. But if I do stick around, I will set records because I'm consistent and you haven't seen any dropoff yet, right? It's like the sun coming up every day. Put me down for 12 sacks or so, and you know it's going to happen. I sack the quarterback, I strip the ball, I make big plays. I do it under duress because people are scheming to keep me out of the backfield. What more can I do?"

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.