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Always a 49er: Rice retires in San Francisco

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Jerry Rice spent some of his favorite
days on the green practice fields next to the railroad tracks that
run behind the San Francisco 49ers' training complex.

That's where Rice honed his game over countless hours as he
became the NFL's most prolific receiver -- and that's why he felt
those fields were an appropriate place to say his latest goodbye to
the sport he revolutionized.

Rice signed a one-day contract to retire with the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday, officially ending the receiver's matchless career back where it began.

Rice, who scored more touchdowns than anyone in league history,
shed no tears during a short signing ceremony on the fields at the
training complex opened in 1988 by the 49ers, his team for the
first 16 of his 20 seasons.

The receiver wore his ring from the 49ers' 1989 Super Bowl
championship team on a chain around his neck as he hugged his wife,
Jackie, and shook hands with San Francisco owner John York.

"I would like to put the uniform on and run on that football
field, but I think it's time to move on," Rice said, gesturing
toward the fields where the current 49ers were practicing. "I feel
welcome here. I feel like this is my home, and this is something
I'll never forget."

Rice, who will turn 44 in October, hasn't played since parting ways with the Broncos before last season, holding his first retirement news conference last September in Denver. He spent three seasons in Oakland after leaving the 49ers, then played a final year with the Seattle Seahawks.

"He played with a burning passion that the NFL had never seen
before," York said. "It's great to see him back with the 49ers."

Rice became a vagabond in his final years, still searching for
another chance to prove he hadn't lost a step in his 40s. But San
Francisco fans still remember Rice in his incredible prime, when he
made most of his 197 touchdown receptions while playing for several
powerhouse teams and three Super Bowl winners.

"This is where I got my start," Rice said. "This is where my
legacy is at. This is where my heart got started, and this is where
I'm going to end it."

Rice's 208 total touchdowns are 33 more than second-place Emmitt
Smith. Rice holds NFL records with 1,549 receptions for 22,895
yards, and also holds the top single-season marks of 1,848 yards
and 22 touchdowns.

Rice's final NFL contract was for $1,985,806.49 -- a sum
suggested by his agent, Jim Steiner, to reflect Rice's first year
in the league (1985), uniform number (80), the current year ('06)
and a 49 for obvious reasons. The contract was strictly ceremonial,
and Rice won't actually be paid.

The 49ers will honor Rice again during a game against the
Seahawks on Nov. 19 at Candlestick Park, and his No. 80 is expected
to be retired in the near future. Rice joked that he might have
waited even longer for this ceremony, but Bill Walsh, his former
coach, encouraged him to get going.

"He wants to introduce me into the Hall, and he said he's going
to pass away," Rice said.

Roger Craig attended Thursday's ceremony, but few players are
left in the locker room from Rice's last days with the club. He was
carried off the field at Candlestick Park on his teammates'
shoulders after a game against Chicago in 2000.

Long snapper Brian Jennings was one of the players doing the
carrying -- and Jennings joked Thursday that he was simply trying to
get into a photograph that would appear in the Hall of Fame
someday.

Rice has plenty to keep him busy until that still-distant date
in Canton, Ohio -- and most of his tasks are in the public eye.
After appearing on the reality-TV contests "Dancing With the
Stars" and "Pros Vs. Joes," he's pitching another show in which
he'll inspire downtrodden people and communities.

"I haven't seen him very much these days," said Jackie Rice,
who lives with their three children in Atherton, a wealthy Bay Area
enclave. "He's out there working. It's been quite a whirlwind of a
year. It's great having him home right now. The kids are happy
about it."

Rice also has time to hone his near-scratch golf game, and he
has a Sirius satellite radio show on football.

He sparked controversy at 49ers camp earlier in the summer by saying No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith is "not the quarterback of the future" for the 49ers, and called for those who drafted Smith to be fired -- presumably coach Mike Nolan, who has the final say on San Francisco's personnel decisions. Rice reversed those comments later Thursday during his show, saying Smith was showing remarkable progress.

Rice would entertain offers of a role in personnel or coaching
with the 49ers -- and though he would have preferred to play
forever, he insists his fans have seen the last of him in stadiums.

"I'm not going to pull a Junior Seau," he said with a grin.