The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project—unveiled every Wednesday from May through July—detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
The son of a brick mason, Jerry Rice spent his teenage summers laboring in the Mississippi sun. Up before 5, finishing after dark, he shoveled, slapped mortar and balanced himself on 20-foot-high scaffolding to catch bricks being tossed up from the ground.
“He handled bricks better than any worker I ever had,” Rice’s father, Joe, told Sports Illustrated in 2003. “I was sorry to see him go.” It was the NFL’s gain. While Rice’s fanatical work ethic allowed him to play until age 42, it was those hands—rangy enough to span two octaves on a piano—that snagged 197 touchdowns, hauled in 1,549 receptions and set 38 league records.
They were the supplest hands the NFL has ever seen, responsible for dozens of one-handed catches while setting new standards for highlight-reel plays (among the many must-sees: the tip and grab from Super Bowl XXIII and his over-the-head snatch on Monday Night Football in 1994, which broke Jim Brown’s touchdown record). Uncalloused (he often wore gloves) and unmatched, Rice’s hands are well-accessorized in retirement with three Super Bowl rings. A mold of Rice’s hands is on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
— Emily Kaplan
Photograph courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.