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Rice's life a study in poetry and motion

By GARY SHELTON, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 24, 2002

TAMPA -- Welcome to the world of Simeon Rice. It's a beautiful thing.

TAMPA -- Welcome to the world of Simeon Rice. It's a beautiful thing.

In Simeon's world, the moon is always in the seventh house, and Jupiter always aligns with Mars. In Simeon's world, the colors are brighter, the orbit is different and there is always a party going on. In Simeon's world, it's all good.

He sits on a bench on a perfect autumn day, looking across One Buc Place at blue skies and green fields, grinning toward a heaven that seems to be grinning back at him. It's good to be Rice these days. Face it, it's good to be Rice most days.

"I have a certain clarity in my life," Rice says. "There aren't many people in life who enjoy the sun I'm enjoying right now. Or the wind and how it's blowing right now. It feels good. There are a lot of sunny days and cool nights."

Rice talks like that, as if he were picking his phrases out of a jewelry case. His voice is dulcet, almost delicate, and he speaks in the natural rhythm of a midnight deejay. Most players talk in cliches. Simeon speaks in lyrics.

For instance:

"This game on the field is a release," Rice says. "It's a release of adrenaline, of tension, of stress. You can find yourself in this game. This game, to me, represents life. Those who want to fight to the end, those who want to tuck and go. Sometimes you're up here and sometimes you're down there, and peaks and valleys and you go through all these different emotions. But it's a joy because it's always interesting to let it play out. It's brutal theater, but it must be played.

"Life has extremes. The gray areas are sometimes an abyss. And it stretches beyond our imagination, but it's in our domain."

Rice leans back, turns his head.

"You like that?" he says. "I'm writing your story for you."

Welcome to the world of Simeon Rice. Yep, you're going to need a thesaurus.

He is a different cut of cloth. That's the first thing you need to know about Rice, the excellent, elegant, ethereal defensive end of the Bucs. He doesn't look like the stereotype, and he doesn't sound like it.

You know about defensive ends. They are the hulking, glowering players who love to tell opponents precisely how their skulls will be used in decorating.

Rice? He designs clothes. He has produced records. He plans to direct and produce movies. He wants to write books. He loves to travel.

Oh, yeah. As a defensive end, Rice is an absolute beast.

No one has blocked Rice lately.

He's second in the NFL with 9.5 sacks, and over his past 17 games, he has 19.5, a run that compares with anyone who has played the game. In less than seven seasons, he has 72 sacks.

Still, there are those who continue to file Rice away as a single-dimensional player, as a pass-rushing savant. After all, Rice is a little sleek, a little slick, for some tastes. He looks like a power forward, and he sounds like a beat poet.

On the other hand, Rice also has five forced fumbles, eight passes defensed and is second on the defensive line with 49 tackles. Aren't those dimensions?

"I've played like this before," Rice said. "It's just that now, I'm doing it under the bright lights of Monday Night Football, or Sunday night football, or the game of the week. It defines itself a little more. It has a little more integrity to it.

"I'm bringing a whole new level of brilliance to this defense. It's like we're building the Great Wall of China."

On the field, there is something liquid about the way Rice moves, something cool and smooth. He plays on Carl Lewis' legs with Inspector Gadget's arms.

For instance, there was a play last weekend against the Panthers when Rodney Peete glanced in Rice's direction and, feeling comfortable, turned to look downfield. Then those telescopic arms stretched out, seemingly arriving 5 yards before the rest of him, and Rice knocked the ball from Peete's hands for a turnover.

So, Simeon. Who is the best defensive end in the NFL?

"Week to week, it's always going to be tested," Rice said. "If you look at my career, no one has done more than me in seven years. The only one comparable to me is a legend, and that's Bruce Smith.

"In answer to your question, I firmly believe I've been the best defensive end in the league, and I'm still growing. It's a beautiful thing."

When it comes to defensive ends around the NFL, however, Michael Strahan and Hugh Douglas get the most respect. Rice? Once, his talents were hidden because his Cardinals teammates were so bad. Now, they're hidden because his Bucs teammates are so good. Put it this way: Where would you rank Rice among the players on the Bucs defense?

"That doesn't bother me," Rice said. "I can flourish without bright lights. The truth remains: I've got Hall of Fame numbers in, what, my seventh season? Dan Hampton went in with 68 or 48 (57, actually, and the league did not keep sack statistics his first three years) or something bananas like that. I know I have a lot more than that. If I can get 18 more, that would be prolific.

"You have to conceptualize the way I play. I play fast. I play with a lot of quickness. I don't play conventional, in terms of taking on every block with your shoulder. I might cut someone and get up and make a play in a very fast manner and a very quick manner, powerfully swift. You can't see a lot of the power I play with, because it's done so quickly.

"In my mind, I play the way a lot of players wish they could play. But they can't, so they're playing the way they played back in the '70s, the '60s, the '50s. Taking on blocks, planting their feet. But if you look at it, I'm the prototype now. Teams went out and got Jevon Kearse and Jason Taylor and the (John) Abraham guy with the Jets. And (Julius) Peppers. I look around the league and say 'Okay.' They're trying to copy me. I'm a visionary."

Still, recognition has come slow for Rice. He says it doesn't bother him.

"It's a beautiful game, but there's a lot of hype to it," Rice said. "A lot of illusion. Your pen doesn't have to tell me I'm great. As long as you're undisputed, the best, that's all that matters. I want to be undisputed.

"Nothing is ever a big deal to me. Nothing is ever that serious. Everything has a moment, from war to peace to joy to happiness to everything in between. That moment is where you exist. If you're strong enough, if you do enough, you'll get out of all the down times."

Get the picture? Get a glimpse of his world? Talking to Rice, following along with his sing-song cadence and the jingle-jangle jumble of his conversation, is a hoot. Some players worry about execution; he worries about elocution.

"I hear some people don't understand me," he said. "If you're intelligent, you understand me. You can't please everyone. Everyone has their own clocks in their own homes, so everyone is on their own time. Even if our time sometimes coexists together.

"Yours might be different than mine, but we can still relate to each other."

Uh, exactly.

Take heart. Maybe the world of Simeon Rice isn't for you, after all. But how about the nation of Simeon Rice?

"I may go into politics someday," Rice said. "I think I'll be president one day. I think a mind like mine should be president. It could give guidance to this world.

"There are so many things I would do. First of all, a lot of people think of the power. I would humble myself to the power. Instead of controlling the power, I would let the power control me. I would live to serve the people."

President Simeon.

Hey, it could work. He's tall, he's forceful and, yes, he could sack Hussein.

Besides, wouldn't the debates be fun?

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