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The three years Jerry Rice spent with the Raiders was a footnote that got reduced to an afterthought in his Hall of Fame speech.
Remove the 243 receptions, 3,286 yards and 18 touchdowns Rice scored with Oakland his career totals would be 1,306 catches, 19,609 yards and 189 touchdowns. That’s still 204 receptions more than Marvin Harrison, 4,401 yards more than Isaac Bruce and 14 more touchdowns than Emmitt Smith, the No. 2 leaders all time in those categories.
I understand why Rice’s induction speech was crafted as it was, with one scant sentence about his Raiders experience and an even longer one later about his “Dancing with the Stars” family.
Play up the Raiders too much and it puts more of a spotlight on the reason he went to Oakland in the first place _ a bitter end to his 49ers tenure which saw Terrell Owens catch 20 passes on his last day in a San Francisco uniform.
Near the end of his career with the team that made him famous, the 49ers didn’t know what to do with Rice. Coaches weren’t sure how to deal with a sullen living legend. Not only were the 49ers 10-22 in his last two seasons, but Rice had become a second wheel behind Owens in 2000, with Owens catching 97 passes for 1,451 yards and 13 touchdowns and Rice with a career-low 10.7 yards per catch and 75 catches, 805 yards and seven touchdowns.
It was Rice’s second straight season below 1,000 yards, he was 38 years old, and he looked at the end of the line.
Instead, the 2001 and 2002 seasons enhanced his legacy, with 83 catches for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns in 2001 and 92 catches for 1,211 yards and seven scores in 2002 _ the last two 1,000-yard seasons of his career. It was an easy call for Al Davis to bring him aboard, given his track record of trying to squeeze the last bit of “greatness” out of great players.
Rather than be a secondary receiver to Owens, Rice was more or less on equal footing with Tim Brown, with whom he shared an interest in golf as well an impeccable manner of dress and style. He had a quarterback in Rich Gannon who revered Rice for his work ethic.
There was coach Jon Gruden, who seemed to understand the insecurities Rice talked about in his induction speech, constantly poking, prodding and cajoling, and always remind Rice that he was the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) and never to forget it. He became the oldest player to score a touchdown in a postseason game with nine catches for 183 yards and a touchdown in a 38-24 wild card win over the Jets.
“I had fun, and that’s why I came here,” Rice said at the time. “I wanted to be a factor, and I wanted to win a championship. You’ve got to save your best performances for when they matter the most.”
He was a key part in the Raiders 2002 AFC championship in an offense opened up by Bill Callahan and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, which was his last season among the elite receivers before finally beginning to show signs of age in 2003.
As it did in San Francisco, it ended badly in Oakland. A consecutive-game streak of 274 games with a catch ended in a 13-10 win over Buffalo, with Rice throwing a fit on the sideline, blaming coach and play-caller Norv Turner and then going to Davis and asking for a trade.
Still, Rice gave the Raiders more production than anyone could have imagined for a player his age, and his Raiders stats alone (243-3,286-17) dwarf those of anyone on the current roster. The receptions are the 10th most in franchise history.
In terms of catches and yards per game, Rice, Brown and Art Powell were the most prolific Raiders receivers.
(Fred Biletnikoff and Cliff Branch played on teams that ran more than they passed, bringing down their per game averages).
Powell averaged 4.535 catches per game from 1963-66, with Rice averaging 4.5 and Brown 4.46. Powell also leads in yards (80.2) followed by Brown (61.9) and Rice (61.4).
In the Canton archives, that might rate more than Dancing with the Stars, but he’s a worthy addition to this year’s Raiders media guide as the 19th player in franchise history to make the Hall of Fame.