WAITING TO EXHALE

December 30, 1996

One morning in late June, I drove to a high school in Menlo
Park, Calif., where some of the San Francisco 49ers would be
working out. I parked my car next to Jerry Rice's. It was the
ultimate timing pattern. In May, Rice's world had been rocked
when his wife, Jackie, nearly died from complications after
giving birth to their third child, a daughter named Jada. Now
Rice, the Niners' star receiver, was about to discuss the ordeal
publicly for the first time--with an extremely interested
listener.

My wife, Leslie, pregnant with our first child, was due in nine
days. As Rice talked about the fear and helplessness he had felt
while doctors struggled through the night to save Jackie's life,
I nodded solemnly. I've known Rice since 1989, and I had never
seen him so shaken--even though it had been six weeks since the
ordeal. Jackie was home and out of danger, and Jada was healthy,
yet here was Jerry, the most dedicated, competitive athlete I've
ever encountered, saying, "Nothing else is important in life
anymore. Football was always Number 1 in my life, but not now."

That evening I thought about the things we often take for
granted. At the time my life was typically hectic. Leslie and I
had just had three rooms of our house recarpeted, and the
contents of several desks and dressers lay strewn across the
dining room floor. In the background I heard Leslie hang up the
phone. Looking dazed, she whispered, "The doctor said I'm about
to go into labor." My stomach dropped, and I got dizzy, and then
a giddiness washed over me. I fetched the two biggest boxes I
could find and filled them with the junk on the floor. Then I
grabbed Leslie and held her close.

Two days later I watched with awe as our daughter, Natalie
Margaret, entered the world. Afterward, when we were sure there
had been no complications, I finally exhaled.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK FROM THE BOOK "RICE" [Jackie Rice, Jada Rice and Jerry Rice]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)