Arash Markazi
Friday December 21st, 2007

This isn't how I expected to find Jerry Rice. The greatest receiver in football history is sitting in front of a make-up artist in a Hollywood green room before going on Last Call with Carson Daly . He's getting "touched up" for the third time today. Maybe it's the fourth. Rice has lost count. He's been up since 6 in the morning, going on every television show in town to plug a cell phone service.

As Rice, dressed in a gray suit with his Super Bowl XXIV ring dangling around his neck, prepares to leave Daly's set, his last stop before heading home, he is asked if he would mind meeting three more fans. Rice's graciousness pays off as he's lead to a nearby dressing room and introduced to Kendra, Holly and Bridget -- the stars of The Girls Next Door.

"I'm your biggest fan," says a giggling Kendra. "I was looking all over my room for a picture of you to sign when I heard you'd be here."

After signing Kendra's picture and taking a few photos with the girls, Rice is back to his car, ready to leave Hollywood and the make-up artists behind. "I like coming out and doing stuff like this for a day but I could never do it full time," he says. "It's not for me. I like the freedom of having my own schedule and spending time at home with the kids."

Before Rice got on his flight back to San Francisco, I was able to sit down with him as he was being driven around Los Angeles for the day. Thankfully the infamous traffic was on my side and we had enough time to talk about a variety of topics, ranging from Randy Moss' pursuit of his single-season touchdown record to the current state of the 49ers.

SI.com: Randy Moss is three touchdowns away from the single-season touchdown record of 22 you set in 1987. Are you fine with him doing it in 16 games rather than in the strike-shortened 12 games you had to do it in?

Rice: I think that's OK, but still, when you do something like that you would prefer someone to match or break the record in an equal amount of games. I did it in 12 games. That's all I'm saying. If he had [broken the record] in 12 games then we wouldn't be having this little debate here.

SI.com: You played in plenty of 16-game seasons during your career, but the most touchdowns you ever caught in those seasons was 17 in 1989. What was it about those 12 games 20 years ago that enabled you to explode the way you did?

Rice: I don't know. To be honest, I really don't know. All of a sudden things were just happening and I was finding myself in the end zone more and more. I was just catching touchdowns in every game and I think it had a lot to do with Bill Walsh being as creative as he was and coming up with a scheme to develop plays for me and get me open and my teammates were doing a great of helping me achieve what I did during that strike year when I caught 22 touchdowns in 12 games.

SI.com: You were on some high-scoring offenses in San Francisco; when you watch the Patriots now do you think they're running up the score at all?

Rice: I like what Bill Belichick said. He said that until that final second runs off the clock, they're going to play football, so that's what they're doing. That's their philosophy. The coach does a great job of preparing them and getting them ready for football. They go out there and play hard and you can't knock that. So if their preference is to play until the game is done than you have to do that regardless of what the other team does.

SI.com: Do you see anyone stopping the Patriots from becoming the first team to go 19-0?

Rice: The Patriots are playing above everyone else and they have a chance at doing something really special by going undefeated. I don't see anything stopping them from achieving that. The only team that might stop them from winning it all is the Colts, but if the Colts want it, they're going to New England to win it. That should be a great football game, but I'm worried that with the Colts' injuries and the loss of Marvin Harrison, their offense is not going to be at full strength. If he was there I think they would match up pretty well. It's possible, but it's going to be hard.

SI.com: What are your thoughts on Terrell Owens and Moss, two receivers who are often compared to you, but certainly haven't always carried themselves off the field the way you did?

Rice: Well, I think that's changing now. I think that has a lot to do with T.O. coming to the conclusion that this is his last hurrah. He knows he has to do it the right and let his play speak for him. I think the same goes for Randy Moss. He was completely dead in Oakland. He was not even interested, and all of a sudden he goes to a team with a great quarterback and football players who won Super Bowls and now that fire has been lit again. He's playing exceptional and they love him there.

SI.com: How much of that has to do with having a quarterback that you believe in?

Rice: That's huge. Randy didn't have anyone in Oakland. When Randy was in Minnesota, he had a pretty good relationship with Daunte Culpepper, but when he went to Oakland there was nobody there. That's where he lost his interest. Then he goes to New England, and there's Tom Brady, a guy that's won Super Bowls, MVPs and stuff like that, and you think, 'Oh my God, now I got a quarterback that can play. All I have to do is just my part.' The same goes for Terrell Owens. When Terrell left San Francisco to go to Philadelphia, he was friends with Donovan McNabb, but that friendship went in the wrong direction and there was a lot of bad blood there. When he went to Dallas, he had Drew Bledsoe and that didn't work, that was not happening. Then out of nowhere this young guy comes along, Tony Romo, and it's ideal because he's a little edgy exciting guy and T.O. likes that. They feed off each other and they have a good relationship.

SI.com: Could you tell Terrell Owens would become T.O. when you were teammates in San Francisco?

Rice: No, he was quiet (laughs). He didn't say anything. He was so quite, he just sat back and it looked like he was willing to learn. Then all of a sudden he changed. Some people, when success starts happening they have a hard time dealing with it. I'm just glad he's gotten wiser and now he's letting his actions speak for themselves on the football field.

SI.com: What receiver in the NFL right now reminds you of you?

Rice: I've always said Marvin Harrison. The way he plays the game and doesn't do much else, you know, he's not too flamboyant, he scores touchdowns and throws the ball to the official and goes about his business.

SI.com: When we hear about the great quarterback and receiver tandems in league history, you're near the top of the list twice with Steve Young and Joe Montana. Do you have a preference between Montana to Rice and Young to Rice?

Rice: (Laughs) Both. Well, you know I scored more touchdowns with Steve Young, but I was always able to adjust to whoever they had under center. With Young, we had a chemistry that was amazing, and I also had one with Joe. Two Hall of Famers that I'll never forget, and two of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. People also forget that it wasn't just me. You know, when I see Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne today, I think of myself and John Taylor. John could have gone anywhere and been the main guy but he wanted to stay with the 49ers and he took a lot off pressure of me. If I had double coverage he would make plays and that helped me out a lot.

SI.com: What's your take on the current state of the 49ers? Is it hard watching them struggle these days?

Rice: I can't watch it ... I just can't. You know, if they're playing, I'll look at it for a little bit and then I have to step away from the game. After being at the top for so long, it's very frustrating to see the status of the team.

SI.com: Have you thought about trying to get more involved with the team in the future?

Rice: I would like to go to training camp and help out the guys and work with them and just be around to support them. I'd like to pass some stuff onto the young guys and just be apart of the 49ers again.

SI.com: Knowing you, this wouldn't be a full-time job, I'm guessing. Fans shouldn't expect to see 'Jerry Rice, Wide Receiver Coach' in next year's media guide, right?

Rice: (Laughs) Oh, no! No, full time, buddy. (Laughs) I've been talking with Mike Nolan, but it's different. It's not like old times. It's not as close a group but you still try to hang in there and hope they turn it around.

SI.com: Whenever there's a discussion about the greatest football player of all-time, it's usually between you and Jim Brown. What's it like to be in that conversation and be thought of as potentially the best football player ever?

Rice: It scares me to death, because I never played it for that. I never played for the status. I played because I loved it. So for people to put me up there with Jim Brown and so many great players I'm blown away completely. Maybe I did something right, but I just went out there and had fun.

SI.com: So there was never a moment in your career where you thought you were the best player in the league and potentially the best player ever?

Rice: Never. Never ever got there. Larry Kirksey, my old receivers coach would always tell me, "Jerry, you need to slow down a little bit and smell the roses." I never did. I didn't have time to smell the roses. Maybe now I can smell them.

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