Rice's receiving records untouchable

BY foxsports • August 4, 2010

Jerry Rice cemented his Pro Football Hall of Fame residency by compiling a boundless list of NFL records over a brilliant 20-year NFL career. And the bulk of them will never be matched.

Where do we begin? Let’s start with the most eye-popping statistic of them all: 208 touchdowns scored.

His slam-dunk, first-ballot cohort in the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2010, running back Emmitt Smith, capped his 15 NFL seasons of record-shattering play with 175 trips to the end zone.

It’s practically a given that Smith’s touchdown mark likely will not be eclipsed. The closest active challenger, Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson, has slowed his prolific scoring pace as his age and wear and tear have increased, and L.T.’s touchdown total stands at 153. This, as Tomlinson is coming off of a ninth NFL season in which he posted only 730 rushing yards — the first time in his career he did not hit the 1,000-yard mark.

Wide receiver Randy Moss, still a dangerous end-zone threat, is oh so close with 149 touchdowns. After that, well, get in line, fellas.

In short: Rice’s all-time touchdown mark is absolutely untouchable. Bulletproof. As are most of his significant NFL-best marks.

With all due respect to my FOXSports.com colleague Alex Marvez, who sincerely believes Smith’s monster career rushing total, 18,355 yards, is utterly invincible, Rice’s laundry list of NFL career superlatives — No. 1 all-time in receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and receiving touchdowns (197) — leaves all others in his dust.

To put this in perspective:

— The 1,549 receptions are 447 more than No. 2 on the list, Marvin Harrison, who is done with football.

— The 22,895 receiving yards are 7,961 ahead of his former Raiders teammate and another Hall of Fame-caliber talent, Tim Brown.

— The 197 receiving touchdowns that make up his otherworldly total of 208 exceed Moss by 49.

And that’s why, even in this age of pass-happy offenses, the prospect of an 18-game regular season and NFL rules that give receivers unquestioned advantages over defensive backs, Rice’s records are sacrosanct. Period.

They’ll stay that way, because it’s almost impossible to imagine a player in this era of instantaneous NFL star power — empowered, in large part, by social media celebrity and a runaway rookie pay scale that hands a draft pick $50 million before he’s even hit the field — sustaining the sort of lunch-bucket work ethic that fueled Rice’s football excellence.

“I never gave in to the concept of 'I’ve arrived,' ” Rice said as he looked ahead to Saturday’s long-awaited Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio. “I always went into a season trying to figure out how to be better than I was the year before.”

And so he did.

As a wide-eyed rookie in 1985 — plucked from obscurity at Mississippi Valley State by one of the game’s most astute talent evaluators, Bill Walsh — Rice was intimidated by the galaxy of San Francisco 49ers stars who confidently populated the team’s practice field.

Running back Roger Craig, a fitness fanatic, embraced a young Rice and made the wiry but fast receiver puke his guts out trying to keep pace with a workout regimen that would make Navy SEALs flee in terror.

To impress his teammates, Rice made it a habit of taking every catch he made in practices and running them all the way through the end zone. Every single time.

“The funny thing was, Dwight Clark, Joe Montana, all those guys were like, 'What is this rookie doing?' I would catch the ball and sprint 80 yards. So I think they all thought this rookie was trying to show us up,” Rice recalled during a conversation we had in early February, a week before I was privileged — as one of the 44 Hall of Fame selectors — to present his candidacy to my fellow voters.

Throughout a two-decade NFL career in which he missed only 10 regular season games (seven of those when he completely trashed his left knee in 1997), Rice never stopped doing this in practice. He never let up, even working out on his own.

Every catch, whether in Rice’s three Super Bowl victories or in the most mundane of drills, was an opportunity.

Even after Rice won NFC rookie of the year and followed that with a sophomore season in 1986 with an NFL-leading 1,570 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns — a double-double Rice would repeat six times — he never pulled up on this take-it-to-the-house habit.

“I was conditioning myself,” Rice explained. “So that when I caught the football, it was automatic. I didn't have to think about it, going straight to the end zone.”

Now Rice is going straight into the Hall of Fame in Canton. No questions asked.

And no challengers on the horizon.

Nancy Gay voted for the Pro Football Hall of Fame classes of 2007-10.