Goodbye G.O.A.T.

Phil Consuegra

The National Football League gave us a lot to talk about in its first week. The New Homeless Saints pulled out an emotional win. Willie Parker crashed the running back party in Pittsburgh. The 49ers won a football game. And, of course, we all know what happened in Atlanta.

But this past week, it was all too soon forgotten that football said goodbye to its best player of all time. It was a quick memory, the type of thought which one remembers only when reminded, when the announcer began his thirty to forty second schpiel about it, and people thought, “Oh yeah… I forgot about that. Wow.” The NFL changed this weekend. The baton was officially passed, with a tearful exit and a quiet press conference. Just like that, an era ended in football.

The NFL may never be the same without Jerry Rice.

There’s no question in my mind who the best football player of all time is. The stats speak for themselves, as Rice is the all-time leader in total touchdowns, total yards, total receptions, receiving yards in a season, postseason receptions, postseason touchdowns, and about 30 other categories. He was Montana’s favorite target. Nothing beat the Montana-Rice hookup. When they played catch, they made it look easier than you and dad on Thanksgiving morning, and you’re not even being defended. He was the best player on Tecmo Super Bowl. I rarely threw the ball to anyone else on the 49ers.

He desperately wanted to keep playing. His emotional break from the 49ers wasn’t done in vain. It was done with class. There was no trashing each other in the media. Just a handshake, a standing ovation, and a goodbye. Not to worry, as he’ll go into the Hall of Fame as a 49er. His tenure with the Raiders included a Super Bowl appearance, but Rice was beginning to fade. He went to the Seahawks and went virtually unnoticed. It seemed like he didn’t care, he just wanted to play football.

He went to the Denver Broncos, and in another show of humility, changed his number just to play football.

In a world of pre-madonna wide receivers, Rice became a breath of fresh air. He never held out of training camp, he never complained about a contract, he never shoved a TD down the opposing team’s throats by excessively or unnecessarily celebrating in the endzone. He was all business, the type of guy is appreciated not just for his talent, but for his work ethic as well.

If his quarterback didn’t throw him the ball, he didn’t point fingers or shoot off his mouth to the press. He didn’t alienate his quarterback or his fans if he had a bad game (which was rare). Rice just did his job, and man did he do it well. He was the humble contributor, he was the epitome of class. That’s the NFL player kids should look up to. That’s the kind of message that is dying in professional sports.

I’m a big believer in the law of Karma, even though I’m a Catholic. I believe in the old theory of “what goes around, comes around.” Jerry Rice is the paramount example of the good guy finishing first. I haven’t met anyone, not one person, who doesn’t genuinely like Jerry Rice. Stats aside, his humility was even more eye-opening to NFL fans.

No, the NFL will never be the same without Jerry Rice. He was more than a wide receiver. He was an icon. He was what all athletes should aspire to, not just in the stat column, but in the human being column. His greatness encompasses more than just his talent on the football field. The way he handled his greatness was even more admirable. He will never be forgotten because he was the best, on and off the field. He will never be forgotten because his contribution was so much more than 35+ records. While his on-field importance may have faded away, his demeanor never changed.

The guard has changed. The NFL is different. The old-school has bowed out. But one thing is for sure after this week: Jerry Rice’s mark on football is one that will never, ever fade away.