Jerry Rice was available Thursday to help all of you who remember him as a Raider, or as a Seahawk, or as a Bronco, or even as a ballroom dancer.
|Jerry Rice wasn't just a 'Star;' he was a superstar in San Fran. (Getty Images)|
Now I hear you squinting and grumbling, "A 49er? When was he a 49er?"
I mean, that must be why he did it, right? Because nobody remembers the first, what, 15 years of his career. It was just a blur, really. Why, if it weren't for those tango episodes, we would have barely known him at all.
Now in fairness to Rice, he was about the 50th guy to have this happen to him, so it isn't as though this ridiculous contrivance was entirely his fault. In fact, whoever thought of it first is the one we need to chase with sticks, not the 50th.
Still, let's review the end of Rice's first stay with the 49ers. After an unparalleled career, he is given a sendoff day at home, and we know it's his big day because it's the day that Terrell Owens catches 20 passes. He fumes, is out the door in record time, signs with the Raiders, and the long downward spiral toward ballroom dancing begins.
Now if you're going to be bitter about your long career with a team ending that way, it seems at least mildly disingenuous to try and rewrite your ending just to get one more day in the spotlight.
But even if you're not bitter, if you can't finish your career with the team you started with, well, yes you can. You wait a suitable amount of time, then they rewrite your past.
And let's not forget the team's contributions to the special day. It's a day's cheap publicity, not just for the retired athlete who still craves a little notoriety that doesn't involve the legal system, but for the team as well, and with the 49ers, cheap publicity is way better than they usually get. The ridiculous salary figure they came up with ($1,980-something-something blah-blah-blah) tells you how absurd they were willing to make this tired old gimmick.
Now the question that comes to mind here is, if you can redo the end of the career, why wouldn't you start retouching some of the highlights off the front end as well? Why wouldn't you change history altogether, a particularly appealing notion for teams like the Lions and Cardinals? Airbrush those four-drop, or three-interception, or four-fumble days right out of your hair, whydoncha? Why not eliminate the last two years entirely, when you were a third option for the Seahawks or no option at all for the Broncos?
Or how about this? Trust the people who know how great a player you were to remember history properly.
Rice was and, for those of you who like to stop time, is a 49er. That's where he made his reputation as the best wide receiver in league history, that's where he redefined the position, that's where the rings were distributed. We all know that, and we do mean "all."
Even Raider fans, who understand living in denial about the team across the Bay when it was really good (and enjoying it immensely now that they're lousy) know that Rice was a 49er first and foremost.
Thus, it doesn't matter that he wasn't a 49er last. That is a meaningless distinction, a silly cliché that outlived its value the first time it occurred. He was a 49er when it, and he, mattered most, and that ought to be good enough for everyone.
If it isn't, well, maybe next week he can come back as a Calgary Stampeder.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.