Superstar In The Making
Some say Rice wasn't fast enough to be a star receiver in the National Football League (NFL), but San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh selected Rice as the 16th pick of the first round. "Jerry's movements were spectacular for a pass receiver," Walsh told the Los Angeles Times. "He'd been catching 100 passes year after year. We felt that if they'd throw to him that much.… he must have the basic instincts for the job."
Yet in his first few games, people wondered about Walsh's decision. In Rice's rookie season, he dropped fifteen passes, but this was due to the complicated 49ers offense, and soon, after he got over the learning curve, he started hanging onto the passes. By the end of the season, Rice had caught passes for 927 yards and three touchdowns, on the way breaking the 49ers single game receiving record with a 241-yard game. He earned a spot on the NFL's All-Rookie Team.
Rice continued his dominance in the NFL, teaming up with Joe Montana to become one of the most successful quarterback/receiver duos in the history of the game. The 49ers had won the Super Bowl the season before Rice joined the team, and Rice wanted to be a part of that. He wanted a ring of his own.
He wouldn't have to wait long. His team, with two Super Bowls in the past six seasons, would become "the team of the '80s," as the 49ers returned to the Super Bowl after the 1988 season, beating the Bengals 20-16 in Super Bowl XXIII. Rice was voted the game's Most Valuable Player.
That was the third Super Bowl for the 49ers in the 1980s, but it wouldn't be their last. In the next season, Rice led all NFL receivers with seventeen touchdowns, and helped his 49ers, which had amassed a 14-2 regular season record, return to Super Bowl XXIIV, which they won. Scoring the most points ever in the most lopsided victory in Super Bowl History, Rice and his teammates blew away the Denver Broncos 55-10. Jerry Rice caught seven passes for 148 yards in the game.
Rice and his team would fall one victory short of making it to the next Super Bowl, but that season he led the NFL in catches (100) and receiving yards (1,502) as well as receiving touchdowns (13). After Joe Montana hurt his back, the 49ers continued to pile up winning records, but for several years they seemed to fall just short of the Super Bowl.
Then, Rice and the 49ers returned to Super Bowl XXIX in 1995, facing off against the San Diego Chargers. Though Rice had been sick the night before the game, and although still weak before game time, he played, and went on to catch ten passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns as his team won a record fifth Super Bowl, 49-26. This put Rice in the record books as the man with the most Super Bowl touchdowns (7) in the history of the NFL.
Rice considered retiring after that third Super Bowl ring, but thought better of it and came back in '95. He continued to put up great stats, and soon became the all-time NFL reception leader with 942 catches. In 1996 he caught his 1,000th pass, still at the top in a sport where he should have been entering the twilight of his career. In 1997 it seemed his luck had run out when he injured his left knee in the first game of the season. Rice needed surgery, and it looked like he would be out for the season. But he hated the injury, and the cast bothered him so much that at one point, wrote Gary Swan of the San Francisco Chronicle, he "went into his garage at 3 am.… took a saw and cut the cast off."