Question & Answer with Jerry Rice
About Jerry Rice
Jerry Rice is no longer playing in the National Football League but his celebrity has not faded. An impressive showing on ABC’s hit television show Dancing with the Stars, a retirement ceremony during halftime of a 49ers game and a recent induction into the College Football Hall of Fame have kept the 44-year-old in the news.
A member of Sharon Heights GCC and a past participant at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the Super Bowl XXIII MVP has traded his football cleats for woods and irons. Golf’s challenge coupled with his desire for perfection make the gregarious athlete dream about the game at night. A legendary work ethic on the gridiron has translated into hours on the driving range allowing the Atherton resident to become close to a scratch golfer in less than 15 years.
Off the course, the father of three keeps busy with a show on Sirius Radio and an impending book release among other commitments. Rice recently took time before a morning track workout to enthusiastically discuss his NFL days and his obsession with golf. -Hilary Howard
How did growing up in Mississippi shape you?
I think it got me ready for the real world. You have to work for everything; nothing is given to you. I came from a very large family … I had five brothers and two sisters. My father, he was a bricklayer. He provided but we didn’t have everything we wanted. Clothing-wise or whatever, we had to take turns. Because of that we were a very close family. I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in Mississippi as an assistant to a bricklayer.
You started playing football as a junior in high school. How did you excel so quickly?
I was playing hooky one day and the principal scared me. He noticed that I could run real fast. He wanted me to go out for the football team. That was at the end of my sophomore year and I was not the most talented one but I just kept working at it and I got better. I think the reason that I was able to excel was that I was totally committed to it.
Describe the transition from a small college to a big city and the NFL.
It was difficult because when I got drafted and I knew I was going to the 49ers, I thought about the great players I was going to meet like Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott or Roger Craig. I had played in front of a large crowd but when I flew into Oakland … the media, my God it was like the paparazzi, there was so many people. Cameras going off, flashes everywhere. I knew that I was getting ready to embark on something that was different and it took me a while to make that transition because coming from Mississippi, I was real shy and laid back. I had to adjust to lights, the cameras and the action.
What were your initial goals in the NFL?
I remember sitting down for my first interview and I remember saying in my very country accent that I would like to be the best receiver to play the game. I still have my country accent but it’s a little bit different now. Every time I see that clip I laugh.
How was your relationship with Coach Bill Walsh?
Very close, he was like a father to me. The San Francisco 49ers were in town to play the New Orleans Saints and Bill Walsh had just checked in and they were showing some old highlights when he was flipping channels. He came across Mississippi Valley State University and he was like, “My God,” and he told me this story later on; he noticed that I was snatching the ball out of the air, that I had good speed down field and that I could run good routes. It was destiny because if he hadn’t been flipping channels like that maybe I wouldn’t have made it professionally because of the small school I attended.
How difficult was it to move across the Bay and play for the Raiders?
It wasn’t that bad. Tim Brown was one of the players I always wanted to play with and I got the opportunity. I did a press conference and interviews and when it was time to go practice I tried on the uniform and I looked at myself and said, “Wow, I look okay in silver and black.” And the guys laughed at me because I said it out loud. It was a different transition because the thing is, when you play for a team for such a long time, you get accustomed to a certain chemistry and with the Niners, we were a very, very tight ship. With the Raiders it was a little bit looser so I had to adjust and fit in.
What’s been the highlight of you career?
I would say entertaining people … having little kids come up to me and ask me for my autograph. I get asked about the records all the time but just the relationships I built and the players I played with; those are the most important things to me.
Would you rather catch a pass from Joe Montana or Steve Young?
Laughs – That’s not a fair question. Montana and I had a chemistry that was unbelievable when I first came in. We had some tough times and fought through them to become real close buddies. Joe left and then Steve Young. I had to adjust to Steve and we developed good chemistry; I had the best of both worlds. To have Montana and also Young … that’s not something that happens every day.
You started playing golf in your 30s, how did that come about?
I was too late; I wish I picked this game up a long time ago. It came about because I was working out with my trainer and for some reason he brought out a golf club and some balls. I tried to hit this stationary ball and couldn’t do it, got frustrated about it and it became a challenge. Now it’s like I’m possessed. I feel like I’ve never had something to really challenge me as much as golf.
You’re work ethic is legendary – does that translate into being a range rat?
Same thing. I got my handicap down to a 1.5 but I still have some rounds where I don’t know what’s going on, why I’m playing bad. Maybe it’s course management, decisions or stuff like that but I think I’m at a point now that it’s mainly my short game so that’s really where I’m focusing now, to be able to get down to a scratch golfer. I know I’m not going to be able to hit every green, but I know that if I’m making good decisions and I can get it up and get it down with my short game, that those birdies are going to come. And just learning the game, course management, knowing when to be aggressive, knowing when to back off and just making good decisions on the course.
How often do you get to play?
My wife is a golf widow. She was a football widow, now she’s a golf widow. I try to get out and play three times a week. Around here, they all know me at the different courses.
How was that transition from dominating in football and then struggling in golf?
I think that’s what really motivated me. I realized that golf is something you cannot master. It’s just not going to happen. You’re going to have days where you play well and you’re going to have days where you’re not going to play well and that’s really when you have to rely on your short game. So I just continued to work hard. I love the game and it’s just trying to get better day-to-day.
Describe the experience of playing in Tahoe with other celebrities.
I love to be competitive. I love to have a good showing. If you’re playing with Michael Jordan and Donald Trump, you want to have a good performance. You’ve got to be able to drop those putts. That’s the part of the game that a lot of people don’t like to work on … trying to be creative around the green and hitting different shots. They want to go out to the range and they just want to pound balls, and I was the same way when I first started. But I know now that the part of the game that’s really important is the short game.
Do you get nervous on the first tee?
Always. To me it’s just like the Super Bowl. It’s like when you play a game of that magnitude or any regular season game you know you are gonna get butterflies. But once you tee off, it’s time to concentrate on the game. And I get so much enjoyment out of it. Even though I’m mentally and physically drained after the round, I’ll play the round over in my head just like I did in football, like “Maybe I should have done this on this particular play,” or “Maybe I should have hit this particular drive here or maybe I should have backed off.”
Who would make up your dream foursome?
Arnold Palmer, I would say Jack Nicklaus and Payne Stewart. I remember Payne giving me lessons, I think it was at the Bob Hope, and I’m getting lessons from Payne Stewart…laughs…I still have that picture and I still look at it and think, wow, that is amazing. Something I’ll never forget. And I have to add Tiger Woods.
Do you have any golf superstitions?
When I play golf I visualize different opportunities at nighttime. I did the same thing in football and with the Super Bowl.
Is it true that you turned down a round with Tiger Woods?
I had just started playing and I bumped into Tiger at Stanford and I couldn’t torture him that way. I’m ready for him now. But at that time I had just started hitting golf balls and I didn’t think it was appropriate to hack the course up in front of Tiger.
Who were the best and worst golfers you’ve played with?
I would say Charles Barkley or Richard Dent. I have to say this just to make Marcus mad, but Marcus Allen. Laughs. Marcus is always working on his game and he is competitive but his game’s not improved.
How did you get involved with Dancing with the Stars?
They got in touch with my agent. When he first mentioned it, I said “No way. I’m not gonna go from football and then put on some dancing shoes. What are you talking about? I’ve got this macho image to uphold.” But I decided that this could be sort of interesting. It is the best thing I’ve ever done. It was very challenging learning how to listen to music, learning how to do routines. I think learning how to be a showman. I had always entertained in football. But I think people really got to see me outside that uniform.
What is next for you?
I’ll be doing Sirius radio; I’m looking at some hosting opportunities. I’m hoping to also do some cameos, get into some acting. I’m working now more than when I played football. It is by choice because there are some things I want to accomplish. Everybody is wondering what is next for me and I just basically want to give the fans what they want.