When Jerry Rice took the stage along with hosts Rich Eisen and Steve Young following his selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the subject of the Raiders never came up.
After all, in three-plus seasons with Oakland, Rice had 16 percent of his receptions, 14 percent of his yardage and nine percent of the touchdowns which stand as NFL records.
But make no mistake. While Rice would have made the Hall of Fame had he never played in Oakland, his stay with the Raiders only added to his legacy.
Flash back to 2000, his final season with the 49ers, when his last game at Candlestick Park was overshadowed by Terrell Owens, who caught 20 passes for 283 yards. The torch had been passed, and there was no going back to San Francisco.
He had played back-to-back seasons with the 49ers at below his usual standard, catching 67 passes for 830 yards and five touchdowns in 1998 and 75 catches for 805 yards and seven scores in 1999.
The end seemed near.
Then came the Raiders, who eagerly signed Rice when he came available with Andre Rison facing legal troubles.
Near the end with the 49ers, it seemed as if coach Steve Mariucci didn’t know what to do with Rice, who could be moody and withdrawn even during the best of times. Rice has always had an insecure side despite all his accomplishments, perhaps a mechanism to maintain his legendary capacity for training.
Rather than leave Rice off to one side and giving him space, as Mariucci did, Jon Gruden was in Rice’s ear constantly.
Gruden challenged Rice to improve while at the same time reaffirming his greatness, and appealing to him to maintain his standard.
Rice ended up having his last two big years with the Raiders _ catching 83 passes for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns in 2001, and then 92 receptions for 1,211 yards and seven scores under Bill Callahan in 2002.
His 13th and 14th seasons with more than 1,000 yards receiving were with the Raiders. His last great playoff game _ nine catches for 183 yards and a touchdown _ came against the New York Jets following the 2001 season..
“I had fun, and that’s why I came here,’’ Rice said after a 38-24 Oakland win. At 39, he was the oldest player to score a postseason touchdown. He did it again a year later, with a 48-yard touchdown catch in the Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay at age 40.
He would later thank Gruden for jump-starting his enthusiasm. The Rice who was so often sullen in San Francisco was seldom seen in Oakland, chatting amiably with media members and looking completely relaxed and serene.
The ego was still there, as evidenced by Rice approaching Al Davis and requesting a trade when he blamed coach Norv Turner for failing to get him the ball and having his consecutive games with a reception streak snapped at 274.
Rice was shipped to Seattle, and ended his career in Denver although he never played ag game with the Broncos.
He’s the 19th Raider to make the Hall of Fame, but his contributions to a division title and a conference champion make his media guide bio a worthy inclusion. He wasn’t Eric Dickerson, just hanging on, or James Lofton, who never approached as a Raider what he did earlier in his career with Green Bay or later with Buffalo.
Rice’s numbers were so staggering _ 1,549 receptions, 22,845 yards and 207 touchdowns _ that they served to help knock former teammate Tim Brown, as well as Cris Carter and Andre Reed, out of any chance to be in the Class of 2010.
With only five modern-era players to be inducted, the dilemma among the voters was clear. Rice was a lock, there were only five spots, and there isn’t a lot separating Brown, Carter and Reed.
Interestingly, only Reed made it to the cutdown from 15 to 10, and his statistics (951 receptions, 13,198 yards, 88 touchdowns) but behind both Carter (1,101 catches, 13,899 yards, 130 touchdowns) and Brown (1,094 yards, 14,934 yards, 101 touchdowns).