ENGLEWOOD — Over in one corner, Denver Broncos receiver Jerry Rice smiled and talked about life after football.
In another part of the room, Rice’s wife, Jackie, answered questions about what it would be like to have the greatest receiver ever to put on cleats at home now on Sundays.
In yet another corner, Rice’s 14-year-old son, Jerry Jr., spoke about having the best possible receivers coach at his disposal any time he wanted to work on pass routes in the back lawn.
Lost in all the commotion was Rice’s youngest daughter, 9-year-old Jada. She tried to stay out of the way as the rest of her family conducted interviews.
Sure, she was sad, but Jada found the silver lining after her father announced his retirement Monday at Dove Valley.
“I’m going to miss seeing him on the field, but he can watch me play volleyball now,” she said with a smile. “It’s going to be different without him out there.”
It will be different for everyone. For 20 years, Rice has shown his greatness on the football field. He owns virtually every receiving record there is to own. He’s the all-time leader in receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895), receiving touchdowns (197), yards from scrimmage (23,540) and combined yards (23,546), to name a few of the 38 records he possesses. He’s also a 13-time Pro Bowler and has won three Super Bowls.
But even the greats have their limits. And playing fourth fiddle is one of them. After meeting with Denver coach Mike Shanahan on Monday morning, Rice elected to decline the offer to join the team as a fourth receiver.
“I came in and gave it my best shot,” said Rice, who showed up in a fashionable caramel-colored suit. “I still wanted to play; it didn’t happen.
“I never thought I would see this day, but it’s here now, and I feel pretty good about it.”
Rice almost retired on the eve of training camp, but his wife talked him out of the decision.
“I said, ‘Jerry, they’re counting on you. Why don’t you go, and if you feel like you don’t want to be there, then come home,’” Jackie Rice said.
He listened, and now he’s back home.
When reflecting on his career Monday, Rice kept his composure. But when it came time to thank his wife for her support over the years, the tears flowed. Rice had to stop and wipe them away before continuing.
“Wow, I said I wouldn’t do this,” he said.
The writing was on the wall after Friday’s final preseason game against Arizona. Rice sounded somber in the locker room after the game.
On Saturday, at his son’s high school football game, Rice sat in the bleachers deep in thought. Just before halftime, he snapped out of his contemplation and turned to his wife.
“He said, ‘I don’t think I’m going back,’” Jackie Rice said. “I said, ‘Are you sure?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I think he sees there’s a lot of things going on where he could make a big contribution.”
Like helping his son. Jerry Jr. is playing slot receiver, running back and safety for the Menlo High School Knights in California. The son, who was wearing a retro Rice jersey, wouldn’t mind some pointers in the back yard.
“I can learn a lot from him,” Jerry Jr. said. “He’s been playing this game for so long.”
After his press conference, Rice went back into the auditorium and interrupted the team meeting. He wanted to say goodbye. When he walked through the door, the players gave him a standing ovation.
“It was a great moment for all of us because when he goes into the Hall of Fame, which they should do tomorrow, we can say we shared a little bit in that,” receiver Rod Smith said. “When we go out on that football field, he’s out there with us because a part of him is now in all of us.”
This may not be the only retirement speech Rice gives in the upcoming weeks. While nothing is official, Rice may end up signing a contract with San Francisco, a team he played with for 16 years, and then retire again.
“That would be the next move,” Rice said. “After that, I guess I’m a free man.”
Being a free man will be an adjustment. The fact he won’t wake up today and put on the pads seems almost surreal.
“I think it’s going to be hard to deal with,” Rice said. “I’ve always had a routine. Now I’m going into a different phase, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
While Rice was in Denver for only a short time, he won’t be soon forgotten. Shanahan said as much as he gushed about the receiver at the press conference. Afterward, he gave Rice a handshake and a hearty hug.
“I really believe he is the best player to play the game,” Shanahan said. “To be able to be around a guy like that is nothing but positive.”
And now Rice’s family gets him all to themselves. No one was more excited about that than Rice’s daughter.
“I can’t wait for him to see me play volleyball,” Jada Rice said.