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Simeon sounds off: I'm the best
He says he lives for the game but gets no respect, is better than sack leader Strahan and should be MVP.
By STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published August 1, 2006
LAKE BUENA VISTA - Interviews with Simeon Rice have been known to touch on any number of unpredictable topics. Film, music, travel, his preference for exotic-looking women and his handful of run-ins with coaches or teams are just a few examples.
Rarely have chats with the Bucs defensive end centered on serious subjects. But Rice did his best Monday to address what he considers an important matter: his legacy.
As it stands now, Rice will be remembered largely for what he is not, which is to say a guy who fits in. But the point he stressed on the fourth day of his 11th NFL season - in his own irreverent way - was that he should be viewed today and in the future as one of the best to play the game. Make that the best.
"I'm the best at this game," said Rice, 32. (People) "don't want to respect it. I'm what they passed the torch to. Camouflage-wearing, boxer-shoes wearing, throwback jerseys, (I have) my own speech, my own way of doing things. Sometimes I'm right, sometimes I might be a little wrong. Sometimes I might get booted out of the Pro Bowl. But I'm what Bruce Smith and Reggie White passed the torch to. I'm the next level. I'm the bar in this game. Like it or love it."
At some point during his address, the name Michael Strahan surfaced, and Rice refused to defer even to the Giants defensive end who has the most sacks among active players. Rice is second among current players with 119 career sacks, 10.5 behind Strahan, a veteran in his 14th season.
"Michael Strahan is great," Rice said. "To see him doing it late in his career, still getting double digits (in sacks), I give him the ultimate love. But he's still not me. Because if you look at what I've done year after year, I don't have four sacks in one year."
In this case, four is no arbitrary number. It actually was a dig at Strahan, who had exactly four in 2004 when he missed eight games because of an injury.
Rice went on to express his dismay over not being considered for defensive player of the year the past few years, despite posting double digits in sacks each of the past five seasons.
"I'm a different person. I like other things," Rice said. "But when you really break it down, what do I like to do? I love to play football. All that other stuff on the side is cool, but this right here, this is my passion. When I look around this league, I see that I get these lukewarm props.
"People will say, 'Wow, you had a great year, Sim.' For me, I don't even care about the Pro Bowl. My thing is, how are you going to have a defensive MVP award and I'm not even (considered)? How are you going to (pull) names from the air like that?"
Passion is not a word often used by Rice. Though he could match or surpass franchise sack leader Lee Roy Selmon this season (Rice trails by 12), he often is viewed as a player for whom football is just something he does - as opposed to one who lives for the game.
That opinion was reflected recently when he went to Los Angeles for a TV appearance and ran into former All-Pro cornerback Deion Sanders.
"He said to me, 'Simeon, how haven't you been defensive MVP the last three years?'" Rice recalled. "I said, 'I don't know.' (Sanders) said, 'Simeon, do you even care?'"
Asked why that attitude persists, Rice shrugs. But here are a few possibilities. While playing for Arizona, he criticized a lack of progress from the organization and soon left as a free agent. Then he had run-ins with Philadelphia coach Andy Reid in two straight Pro Bowls, the second time earning an early trip home.
And last season, the Bucs suspended Rice for a game after he missed a meeting the night before a contest at San Francisco. The Bucs were upset that day and Rice later made a mockery of his mistake in front of reporters, displaying a copy of the men's magazine he enjoyed on his flight home.
Rice doesn't dismiss his shortcomings. He just doesn't think they should be factors in determining his place in history.
"I'm just misunderstood. But that shouldn't even be a part of the equation unless they want me on the cover of a cereal box," he said. "I'm probably not a Wheaties guy. I'm talking strictly football. I'm not talking personality and flare. That has its place: E!, MTV, BET.
"Let's just ignore that. Let's just honor the game. That's where you'll find me. If you get into, wow, he's an oddity or how do we package this, you can't fit me into a bottle. Let's just talk about performance because performance is black and white."
It's not surprising that Rice's priorities appear to be changing. He is getting older and presumably more mature. And as he grows, the game's importance to him is growing, too.
"I play to cement my name in this game forever," Rice said. "I play to help this team get to a Super Bowl. I've made the paper. I've got the Benjamins. I've got the Ferrari. I've been places that many people can't even talk about. That's all a (result) of hard work. But to sustain all of that, there's a reason why I play this game: to be in the likes of the great ones. That, to me, is what this game is all about."