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NFL great says goodbye

Jerry Rice retires after 20 years, 1,549 catches, 22,895 yards and 38 career records.

By Associated Press
Published September 6, 2005

DENVER - The greatest receiver of all time realized he would be no better than the fourth receiver for the Broncos. It was no way for Jerry Rice to end his career, so he called it quits after 20 sensational seasons.

"I never thought I'd ever see this day," Rice said Monday during an emotional news conference at team headquarters.

And the NFL may never see anyone like Rice again.

The 42-year-old receiver, a first-round draft pick out of tiny Mississippi Valley State in 1985, leaves the field with 38 NFL records, including the most career receptions (1,549), yards receiving (22,895) and touchdowns receiving (197).

But as much as the numbers, it was the way he did things that made the biggest impression - the right way. He was a stickler for details, a master of route-running precision, a good guy off the field and a workout junkie in season and out.

Revered by fans and his peers, Rice told the players he was retiring during a short meeting held after his public announcement. The Broncos gave him a standing ovation.

"Not many people that own all the records spend that type of commitment and give that type of commitment in the offseason," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "That's why, in my opinion, he's the greatest player to ever play the game."

Rice led the 49ers to three Super Bowl titles and helped make quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young look great. He mastered the West Coast offense and made a career of turning short catches into long gains.

After 16 years with the 49ers, Rice went to Oakland, where he had three fairly productive seasons. But it became clear the end might be near last season when the Raiders phased him out, prompting a midseason trade to Seattle.

He still had 14.3 yards a catch last season and scored three touchdowns, showing traces of the big-play capability he flashed so often earlier in his career.

"He worked hard every day," Broncos receiver Charlie Adams, 25, said. "He didn't take any days off, he didn't take any plays off. That's how he did it. He never took the easy way out."

But he decided it was time to get out.

Shanahan was willing to give Rice a roster spot, but told him the third receiver spot was out and there were no guarantees he'd play every week. Rice didn't want to deal with the possible indignity of being declared inactive or withering away on the bench when he did suit up.

Rice believes his route running was "still pretty good," although he concedes he's not as explosive as he used to be.

"Eventually," Rice said, "everything is going to catch up with you."

Now that he's acknowledged it's over, Rice said he was grateful for the last few years of his career, when he finally took the blinders off and paid attention to the fans who chanted his name.

An avid golfer who was often spotted playing at the resort where he stayed while in Denver, Rice said he is "looking forward to the next phase of my life."

"There are opportunities out there. I'll approach them like I did football, with determination and pride," he said.

[Last modified September 6, 2005, 05:56:13]

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