This weekend, we saw a tremendous run by Marshawn Lynch to lift the lowly Seahawks above the defending Super Bowl champion Saints. The run reminded me of one of my all-time favorite NFL plays—and one of the greatest runs of all-time.
Jerry Rice was not the most innately talented receiver to play in the NFL.
Not the fastest.
Not the tallest.
Not the strongest.
He wasn’t groomed at the finest college football program by the finest coaches.
But he did have an unending work ethic that allowed him to leave the game as the greatest receiver of all-time—and probably the best player of the modern era.
Sure, it helped that he had one of the greatest coaches, two of the all-time great quarterbacks, and starred on a team of stars. But that alone doesn’t produce a Jerry Rice.
Hard work, a commitment to excellence, and an uncanny ability to shine on the biggest of occasions does. Running the best routes, having the surest hands, being the quickest off the line, perfecting every movement and read—and managing to do it all at the highest levels for years and years and years—that’s what makes you a Jerry Rice.
Today, Rice was selected to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His inclusion on the first ballot was about the safest bet you could make. But it wasn’t a sure thing when he was drafted. That’s where the hard work came in.
I value loyalty.
I hadn’t ever thought of myself as being an especially loyal guy until a friend raised it as one of my personal qualities a couple of years ago. I reflexively disagreed, but upon further reflection and discussion realized that it was probably an accurate statement. Hey, sometimes it takes you a few decades to learn about yourself.
I posted the picture above, which was taken in mid-September 1989, to illustrate this point. I was looking at a few of my old pictures for today’s Facebook meme and ran across this one. Besides the smile, I loved some of the insights the photo provides into who I am (more on that below).
But first: loyalty.
Despite the prominence of the tape player, the first thing I noticed about this photo was the ASU poster in the background. The second thing I noticed was my head-to-foot 49ers outfit. Recent events reminded me of my loyalty to both of these teams.
Earlier today on a work conference call, we scheduled our big annual event for a November weekend on which there’s a home ASU football game. It’s the second time in as many years. It will be only the third time I’ve missed a regularly-scheduled home game since becoming a fan in 1987. I’m already feeling bad about missing the game, even though I don’t have high hopes for next season. There have been far too many of those seasons, but alas, I continue to buy season tickets and root on the team. I’ve never willingly left the stadium before the bitter end, no matter the score or weather. If you know me, you know me as a loyal ASU fan.
The same concept, albeit to a lesser extent given the circumstances, applies to the 49ers. To be sure, the Niners had a grand glorious run – one for both the record and history books. But those times vanished when Eddie D gave up the team, and the team has had precious little success since then. Still, I’ve never wavered, even as it became fashionable for root for the Cardinals. In fact, everyone expects me to root for the Cards—I’m a native after all—and are usually shocked and a bit miffed that I’d rather the Cardinals lose every game they played. (For what it’s worth, they should have lost the last one.) Part of that is residual anger over their lawsuit against ASU, disrespect for the Bidwell family, and the fact they got a new stadium deal they didn’t in any possible way deserve. But much of it also boils down to the fact that the Cards and Niners are both in the NFC West. What can I say – I’m a loyal 49ers fan.
Of course, loyalty to a particular football team is hardly a personal characteristic you’d want engraved on your tombstone. There are far more important ways to be loyal, people to be loyal with, and values to be loyal to. But nonetheless, I think it’s a clear indicator of a larger and more meaningful pattern.
Speaking of indicators, let’s get back to the photo. Some other quick observations about what this picture might say about me, even at the ripe age of 10:
- Tape cassettes weren’t cutting-edge, but I clearly enjoyed technology.
- I was anal enough even back then to keep a running score tally on the ASU poster. Luckily, I wouldn’t get any database software for another couple of years.
- Office supplies were in my future – notice the legal pad and pad holder. I’m such a geek.
- I’m still refusing to acknowledge the GI Joe sheets.
- I was nostalgic and sentimental even back then – notice the ticket pinned up next to the poster and the pom pom on the left side of the window sill. Those were less signs of fandom and had much more to do with saving memories.
- Friendship bracelet FTW!
In the NFL news today was the list of finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There were some obvious selections, including Jerry Rice – whom I consider to be the greatest player in the modern era. I’m a huge Jerry Rice fan.
But there was another 49er on that list that I think doesn’t get the credit her deserves: Roger Craig. To this day, he stands as my favorite NFL player – even above Rice, Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, and Steve Young. That’s probably because I love Craig’s style of game so much.
In recess and street football games as a kid, he was the guy I always wanted to be. The running back, with high knees that slowed the tackles (or two-hand touches, as the case usually was). The out-of-the-backfield receiver that no one wanted to cover. Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing quarterback too; but as one of the fastest kids at that age, it made more sense to get me the ball quickly and let me go.
Nostalgia aside, there’s a strong case for enshrining Craig in the Hall of Fame. He may not have been the Eric Dickerson or even Marcus Allen of his era, but what he did helped revolutionize the way the running back position is played and valued in an offense. His 1000/1000 season still holds as one of the greatest single season performances of all-time.
It’s time for a Roger Craig bust in Canton.
It would have been shocking if the 49ers didn’t name interim head coach Mike Singletary to the permanent position, so it was expected that they would do so in short order after the season concluded. Of course, it was a little surprising that it was done before the team even reached the locker room after a last-minute field goal gave them their fifth win in the last seven games.
That’s a great move – Singletary has shown that he can take control, make sound decisions, inspire the team to play, and even keep big egos like that of Mike Martz in check. The more questionable decision was to promote 27 year-old Jeb York to the role of President. Having both Jeb and Mike in control of off-season manuevers means that the Niners will have no experience to draw from when those big decisions come around. In addition, it probably means that Scott Pioli won’t be adding his name to the mix, which though a long shot, would have really sparked my confidence in the future of the franchise.
Instead, Niner fans are left wondering if Martz will stick around and if the organization can really chart a new course through what could be an interesting couple of years. We’ll have to see what happens with Martz, as there seems to be conflicting reports in the last few days about his perceived status. While some consistency is badly needed in the OC position in San Francisco, I don’t think Martz is the long-term solution and I don’t think it makes sense to keep him any longer if he isn’t. If the right guy is available – which won’t be Norv Turner after tonight’s Chargers win – I hope the Niners pull the trigger. Martz’s offense isn’t as successful as it once was, and his system is overly complex and unique. Changing now will speed up the eventual transition process away from him. I think Martz did a decent job in the second half of the season, when Singletary spelled out who would be playing QB and what Martz’s gameplan would be, but I just don’t think he’s the right guy for the job.
We’ll see how Mike Singletary feels about it later this week.