A condensed version of Dan Patrick's interview with 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice appears in the Jan. 8 edition of ESPN the Magazine.
|Jerry Rice says he plays better when his uniform fits just right.|
Dan Patrick: If you closed your eyes, could you tell if Steve Young or Joe Montana threw you the ball?
Jerry Rice: If I closed my eyes, yes. Yes, I could.
DP: What would be the difference, and is it subtle?
JR: Yes, it's subtle. But just a different rotation on the ball. Steve Young's rotation would be similar, but it would spin the other direction.
DP: Well, of course, you'd be a great receiver if you could close your eyes and still catch the ball.
JR: Without a doubt.
DP: What's your take on instant replay?
JR: I think it slows down the game. ... I think it should be left in the hands of the officials. Now, during playoffs, you know, it's a whole different story -- everything is really crucial there. So I think it should be used during the playoffs.
DP: At what point in a game do you hear the crowd?
JR: I can hear the crowd when I cross the goal line. If I score a touchdown, I can hear the applause and all of that. But before then, I'm so locked in -- everything is basically just quiet, and everything slows down.
DP: So if you're in the huddle or even going up to the line of scrimmage, you don't hear the crowd?
JR: I can hear the crowd when I go to the line of scrimmage. But then, the second I lock in, focus in, I can't really hear the crowd. Because, you know, I'm just like a quarterback on the field. And I'm reading the defense, and I'm so intense, and I'm so focused on what I'm doing.
DP: What do people who don't play in the NFL just don't know about it? What is it that we don't get? And I'm sure there's a lot of things that we don't get. But what is it that we can never, ever understand about playing in the NFL?
JR: How fast the game is. You would have to be actually down there, on the football field. And you see these guys, 280, 300 pounds. And these guys, you know, they can run a 4.6 ... it's just a real fast and very violent game.
DP: What's the play that's called in the huddle that will bring a smile to your face -- or your eyes will open up a little bit wider?
JR: It would have to be something like a home run. You know, like the defense is bringing the house. So if they're bringing the house, the free safety is out of the middle. So it would probably be the audible razor. And that basically sent me to the post...
DP: How would Rich Garcia call it?
JR: He would audible -- he would say, "black razor, black razor." And I know exactly what's going on, and I know the free safety is coming out of the middle. And all I have to do is just beat the corner.
DP: Now, doesn't the defense have an idea of what's being audibilized?
JR: No, no. They don't have a clue. But, you know, what they're basically trying to do, in a situation like that, is get to the quarterback. So they bring in a lot of heat. And if they don't get there, you know, there's a good chance they can give up the home run.
DP: What's the one question you get on a regular basis that just makes you cringe? You shake your head and say, "Let's move on."
JR: Let me see. Probably, "Who's the best quarterback to ever play the game?"
DP: What, they want you to pick between Joe Montana and Steve Young?
JR: The majority of the time, I get confronted with that. And my answer to that is, I have played with two of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.
DP: So you take that politically correct stance?
DP: Have you ever tipped your hand and said something that maybe got back to the other quarterback? That you said, "You know what? I couldn't have done this without Steve, and he threw the best ball to me." Or, "You know, Joe set me up better than other any other quarterback."Or have you ever said something that you regretted, because maybe it would have gotten back to the other guy?
JR: No, I don't think so. Because, you know, I had a great chemistry with both guys. So I knew Steve's weaknesses, and what really made him strong. And also, vice versa with Joe. So I have always been able to separate the two.
DP: When you're out on the flank, are you going on snap count or on movement?
JR: Sometimes I get called off sides, because my reaction is so much quicker than my teammates. So I have to just hold in there a second. So, you know, in a situation where you can't hear the quarterback, you've just got to go on the movement of the ball.
DP: Do you remember every touchdown you've scored?
JR: No, no way.
DP: Because I was going to say, what was No. 38 like?
JR: No, I could not tell you that off the top of my head.
DP: Which record are you proudest of?
JR: I would probably say when I broke Jim Brown's record.
DP: For most touchdowns.
JR: Yeah, for most touchdowns. That was real special to me. And, you know, there were so many guys who helped put me in that position.
DP: Give me three wide receivers who played back when you started that have the skills to play right now. Guys that you admired.
JR: My God, man. You know...
DP: Who have you learned from? How's that?
JR: What I can say? I think it would be Steve Largent, Drew Pearson and Tony Hill.
DP: Did you learn something different from all three of those guys?
JR: I think I'm a mixture of all three of them. You look at Steve Largent. He was not a very fast guy, but he ran very precise routes, and I take a lot of pride in my route-running. I look at Drew Pearson. You know, he was not as fast, but he was very athletic. I had heard that he probably took a little battering or something like that. I don't know. And he could just jump up there, he could make those incredible catches. Then you've got Tony Hill. He was ... very explosive after he caught the football. So, you know, I'm a mixture of all of those guys, combined into one.
DP: You're one of those guys who's faster when somebody's chasing you, right?
JR: I think people, when I say this, they take it the wrong way. I call it running scared. When you've got people chasing you like that, there's no telling what your potential can be. I think I can run a 4.2 if someone is chasing me.
DP: Well, it depends on how big they are. Because if it's somebody who could hurt you, you may run a little faster, right?
JR: The thing is, when you catch that football, you want to do something with it. So if it's a little guy chasing you, it doesn't matter. You want to get into the end zone.
DP: Has Deion Sanders ever tackled you?
JR: Yes, he has.
DP: Well, he doesn't really tackle, does he? He kind of, like, forces you out of bounds. ... It doesn't hurt if Deion hits you.
JR: No, he's real sneaky. See, the thing about him is that you never know when he's going to just try to unload one on you. So, you know, I would think in a very desperate situation, with everything on the line, you know, he has the potential to come up and really stick you.
DP: When did you know you were rich?
JR: I'm still not rich.
DP: OK, maybe not by athlete standards, but...
JR: I have never looked at myself as being rich. You know, I look at the situation as I'm doing something that I really love, and it's a dream come true.
DP: Do you know how much money you have in your bank account right now?
JR: No, [but] I'm sure my wife does.
DP: What's the best thing about being famous?
JR: It's that you have so many little kids looking up to you. And they idolize you, and they want to be like you ... that's real special.
DP: What's the worst thing?
JR: You don't have any privacy.
DP: Give me a teammate who makes you laugh.
JR: [Wide receiver] Kevin Williams. He's a prankster, man. He's always got something going on. You know, we can be sitting in there in meetings, and he'll just say something. And everybody just starts laughing.
DP: What's the best prank ever pulled on you?
JR: You know, sometimes you might get whipped cream or something like that put in your cleats. Or, you know, there's this Tiger Balm, put in your jock. You know, just stuff like that.
DP: Did you do it, or did somebody do it to you?
JR: I had it done to me once. That is a very, very uncomfortable feeling.
DP: See, you don't strike me as a guy that somebody would play a joke on.
JR: Every now and then, you know, you have one. One person that, you know, basically tries to get you.
DP: Who's the smartest guy you've played with?
JR: The smartest? I would have to say Steve Young.
DP: He's kind of a goofball, too.
JR: Yeah. But, you know, lawyers are like that.
DP: He's never going to practice as a lawyer, you know that. I just think he bought that degree. He didn't even go to school for that.
JR: But, you know, he's very smart.
DP: OK, what makes him smart?
JR: When he wants to be, he's very smart. You know, he's already talking this terminology. And you're like, oh, my God, what is this guy talking about?
DP: Then that doesn't make him smart.
JR: I think sometimes, you know, he's talking the talk. And he doesn't know really what he's talking about.
DP: Pregame ritual. The oddest thing you do before a game.
JR: Probably, right before the game, you know, my uniform has to fit a certain way. Very, very neat, and everything has to be tucked in.
DP: And if it's not?
JR: I'm not going to have a good day. You know, the funny thing is, the equipment guys, they have your pants already out. And if I'm having one of those days where, you know, things are just not really fitting the way they should, I might try on, maybe, four or five pair of pants before I decide on one.
DP: This isn't a fashion show, Jerry -- it's a football game.
JR: But, hey, if you look good, you play good.
DP: Do you honestly believe that?
JR: Yes, I do. And another thing I believe -- if you practice good, you play good on Sundays.
DP: What do you drive? What do you have right now out in the parking lot?
JR: Black Mercedes.
DP: Is that your favorite car?
JR: Yeah -- black is a sign of confidence.
DP: So you wish you played for the Raiders.
JR: No, I'm not saying that. But my favorite color is black.
DP: Could you see yourself in another uniform?
JR: Oh, man. Yeah, I could see myself in another uniform.
DP: Which one? You're only picking the uniform, not the team, and I'm stressing that. This is just...
JR: I'm not going to tell you. ... There are certain things you don't say.
DP: Alright. What colors would they be?
JR: No, that's OK. We'll pass on that one.
DP: You'd play for the Raiders. Because of the black jersey.
DP: Best Halloween costume.
JR: One year I dressed up as a clown. I had the red nose, I had the hair, I had everything. Walked into this mall, and this lady walked right up to me and said, "How are you doing, Jerry Rice?"
DP: So much for a costume.
JR: She said she knew me by my eyes. I said, "Wow."
DP: Do you believe in ghosts?
JR: Yes, I do.
DP: Have you had any run-ins with the afterlife?
JR: No, I haven't had any run-ins. And I'm not looking for anything like that.
DP: What movie scared you to death?
JR: Probably "The Exorcist."
DP: Yeah ... when her head started spinning around?
JR: You know what I'm saying? That was pretty goofy.
DP: Is that when you just grabbed your wife's hand and said, "Let's get out of here."
JR: My wife, she was gone. I was looking for her.
DP: Favorite movie. The one you would watch again.
JR: Oh, my gosh ... you got me on that one.
DP: You don't have one that you'd say, you know what? I'd watch that one again.
JR: I would probably say "Dances with Wolves." I really enjoyed that movie.
DP: Now, you've met Kevin Costner before. ... Did you tell him?
DP: Why not?
JR: Because I couldn't basically hold a conversation with the guy, because the women ... they just love him.
DP: Could you see yourself as an actor? Give me an actor now, who is you, if you were in the movies.
JR: Oh, come on, man.
DP: Are you a superhero? Would you be like a James Bond kind of guy, nice cars? Would it be a Rambo-type guy?
JR: I think I might be a mixture of both.
DP: A James Bondo, is that what it would be?
JR: Something like that.
DP: You're into music. ... Can you sing or play an instrument?
JR: No, I can't, but my daughter can.
DP: OK. If you could be a musician, who are you going to be?
JR: I don't know ... over the years I have always liked Luther Vandross.
DP: He weighs about what you weigh now.
JR: He done trimmed down a lot ... yeah, Luther, just the way he could really take over a room, an audience.
DP: The last concert you went to.
JR: I haven't gone to one in a long time.
DP: Well, the last one.
JR: I can't remember back that far. I've been hit too many times.
DP: No, Steve Young had the concussions, not you.