Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Wednesday, January 16, 2002
Updated: January 18, 2:00 PM ET
Incredible greatness of being

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

It didn't start off like an argument. I just happened to mention to Dog that what Jerry put on the Jets last Saturday night (nine balls for a buck-eighty-three, a touch, a near-touch, the fear of God) for the Raiders reminded me of what Jordan was doing for the Wiz vs. the NBA this season.

Jerry Rice
Jerry Rice's season with the Raiders solidified his ranking as the best football player ever.
"Nobody else ever could'a done it, not at age 40, since they're both almost 40, might as well say, and don't seem to know it, or care. They're the best that ever walked out there, man," I said.

Road Dog said nothing. Which is hard for him to do.

So I dug in deeper. "Makes you understand how great they were before, when they had all their ability ..."

Road Dog interrupted me, saying, "Mike still got his ability."

"OK, Dog. You live in your world. They've both come back to the pack big-time, but still, they're still so far ahead of the rest, just on pure knowledge of what they're doing, pure fundamentalism ..."

Now does that sound like an argument to you? Not to me either.

Keep listening.

***** ***** *****

Michael Jordan, Tyronn Lue
Michael Jordan's winning with the Wizards, whose biggest free agent signing was Tyronn Lue, left.
Road Dog: "They? They? Don't be comparing no Jerry Rice to no Michael Jordan, Dub! A comparison can't be made."

R-Dub: "... but ... I just did it."

Dog said, "You cain't compare Jerry to Money, 'doh."

R-Dub: "Well ... maybe you can't, or cain't, which I guess is worser, Homer ... but I think I can ..."

Road Dog: "Man, pro hoop got more individuality, more life. It's real. It's like ... music. It's like ... Bob Marley. It gets in you. Individuality counts for something. Self-expression. Money is a form of self-expression ... everybody loves Money worldwide."

R-Dub: "Funny. That's the same thing Juanita said."

Road Dog: "Cold. That cold. Well, I don't even know Jerry's old lady's name ... that's how big Jerry is. Football is parole-chee-ul."

R-Dub: "You mean parochial. But I know what you're saying."

Road Dog: "Naw, you don't. I'm saying football is one strange-ass American game, man. It don't translate worldwide at all. But we all universal prisoners of da hoop de ville. It's like ... jazz. Pro football!? It's like ... all that 'Riding the Valeries' crap."

R-Dub: "That's "Ride of the Valkyries,' Dog. That's Wagner."

Road Dog: "Yeah. I heard that it's supposed to be music. If you wanna call it that. I also heard a white-headed man say it's better than it sounds. Whatever. I'll bet money on pro football, don't get me wrong, play tip sheets on it, and cards on it, and the over-under, and the spread and all that. And I wouldn't bet on an NBA game to save your mama's life. How she doin' anyway? She been askin' 'bout me?"

R-Dub: "I ain't falling for your weak Chris Tucker mimicry, Dog. Can't throw me off this -- or off your mama, by the way. Yeah, pro football is pure unleashed hell. That is so my point. TD for TD, block for block, play for play, Jerry's the best ever, in that chaotic and bizarre and Armageddonish world. You can look it up in the touchdown book. Emmitt Smith is in second place with 150 TDs, lifetime, regular season, 21 in the playoffs. That's about 50 less than Jerry, reg season. Fifty! And Jerry has 133 catches, 2,000 yards and 20 TDs in the playoffs alone! That's a good career, right there. Reg season -- 20,000 yards. 20,000. Buries everybody else ...

Road Dog: "So he's the best wide receiver, maybe, you mean ..."

R-Dub: "The best player, and I didn't say it first. Bill Walsh said it to me first. Walsh was the one who got me to thinking about it; this was '87 ... strike year ... year Jer scored 23 regular-season TDs. Jer scored all those TDs in a strike-shortened 12-game season. Just before he did that, as I was out there stirring it up for the Illy, and Walsh said, 'He's the best receiver I've ever seen.' Then he paused and said, 'He may be the best football player I've ever seen.' Like he wasn't even talking to me. Like he was talking to himself. Bill Walsh might lie to me. I doubt he'd lie to himself. Not over this."

Road Dog: "MJ rules. Because everybody knows he rules. Six NBA titles. Ten scoring titles. Ten or 12 All-Defensive teams. Thirty-thousand points. Only three men scored more, and Mailman don't count. And ... Jordan missed five whole seasons. He'd be as far gone in the record book as Jerry. But it bored him to stay. He only came back to play when presented with a new challenge."

R-Dub: "It's that Brooklyn in you. If Jer had been born in Fort Greene, instead of Mississippi, you'd be saying Jer was the greatest in his sport, too. You'd be feeling him then."

Road Dog: "Yeah, but he wasn't, 'doh. So slow your roll, Dub. Football can't ever be hoop. Not in Brooklyn ..."

R-Dub: "So you're saying you don't know football."

Bill Russell
Bill Russell, at left with Red Auerbach, wouldn't have won 11 titles with a supporting cast like MJ had.
Road Dog: "... I don't know football? How Jerry better than your boy Elway? What about Ray-Ray? Ray-Ray stole every heart in the whole league. Watch what he do to The Bus on Sunday. What about Mean Joe? Night Train? Big Daddy? Johnny U.? Grange? Thorpe? Bronko? Warfield? Motley? Graham? Baugh? Matson? Juice? Sweetness? Lem Barney? Urlacher? Healthy Woodson? Healthy Deion? Butkus? Bo? I know football deep. All these dudes. What about Montana? Too many dudes in football -- 22 out there at one time. How a wide gonna be the best outta alla dat?"

R-Dub: "Well, what about Bill Russell and 11 NBA titles?"

Road Dog: "Awwwwww! Wasn't but like, six teams in the whole NBA league then! Give Money Shaq, or Kobe, and Money wins 11 titles too! Plus Money laid out for, what, two years playing baseball, and then three years retired ... if not for that, he'd have caught Kareem for most points scored by anybody, lifetime ..."

R-Dub: "Yeah, well, it's harder to come back after you've been injured at age 35. That was when Warren Sapp -- back when he hadn't turned soft as a grape and actually was Warren Sapp -- snapped Jerry's knee four years ago, and that was supposed to be it. Total reconstruction ... to come back from that ... at age 39 ..."

Road Dog: "OK. Let's take it by what's deeper than the numbers. Straight up. Jordan vs. Rice. Mike vs. Jer. Money vs. Flash 80."

R-Dub: "Let's. Although it'll be like Truth vs. Light."

***** ***** *****

The competition as The Greatest
Road Dog: "For you, Jim Brown, Jim Brown and Jim Brown ..."

R-Dub: "Well, if Jim Brown had kept playing past age 29, you might be right. Jim scored like, 126 TDs, averaged 5.2 a pop, had all their minds. Crazy when he did it. Crazy now. Recognize: Counting playoffs, Jerry will beat that total by 100 TDs! ... now, for your client, the comp is Bill Russell, Bill Russell, Bill Russell. Plus, Big O, Kareemy, Bi-zerd, Magic, Shaq, Kobe ..."

Road Dog: "Russell is the all-time winner of life with them 11 NBAs, but ain't no comp for Mike as the greatest. Mike played all five. Point, 2, 3, 4 and blocking the crunch-time shot of your 5 ..."

R-Dub: "Magic did that."

Road Dog: "Magic ain't guarded nobody! Bird neither! Magic couldn't shut down your leading scorer. Kareem couldn't go get the ball, get in a passing lane, pick somebody's dribble. They say O was the closest, the most comp. O was like, Mike's Jim Brown."

Longevity
R-Dub: "Jerry came out in '85. It's 2002. Still rolling ..."

Road Dog: "Mike got that beat. Came out in '84. Came to the Bulls, who were straight garbage. Now them Niners, they had just won two Super Bowls before Jerry got there, right? So what is it exactly that makes Jerry that much better than, say, Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon?"

R-Dub: "I've got three words for you ..."

Utter timeless unstoppability
R-Dub: "The basic rule on defense in pro ball, is that you can take a player, any player, even a great player away by double- or triple-teaming him, what the Detroit Pistons used to call 'The Jordan Rules.' Can we agree they don't apply to either dude?

Road Dog: "Don't apply to my guy. It took all five Detroit Pistons to implement 'The Jordan Rules.' Ain't ever heard of no Jerry Rules."

R-Dub: "Go to Foxboro this weekend. You will."

Making teammates better
John Taylor
John Taylor wouldn't have been as effective, nor would he have been a Super Bowl hero without Rice.
Road Dog: "Mike retires this ... he retires it ... levels it ... got Stacy King a ring. John Paxson. Steve Kerr. Craig Hodges. Cliff Levingston, Will Perdue ... how he win one NBA title with that? Good one-dimensional dudes, some of them. But how Mike win six NBA titles with that? Your client was catching passes thrown by Steve Young and Joe Montana, the two greatest quarterbacks, stat-wise, to ever suit up. So Ricky, you got some 'splaining to do."

R-Dub: "Can't argue with what Mike did. Russell sure wouldn't have won six with those guys. But why do you think Young and Montana were so special, stat-wise? Young to Rice is the greatest TD-making passing combo in the history of the NFL. Montana to Rice is No. 3 in the history of the NFL. And in fact, Rice caught TD passes from 10 different Niners QBs, including ones with names like Cavanaugh, Kemp, Moroski, Bono, Benjamin ... he even caught one from a fullback named Harry Sydney!"

Road Dog: "But even when your client was winning the Super Bowl XXIII MVP in 1989 -- when Jerry caught 11 balls for 215 yards, true -- John Taylor caught the winning touchdown pass."

R-Dub: "Come on, Dog. You're better than this. How many NBA Finals games did a Paxson or a Kerr jump shot win? You know the reason. In their primes, Jordan and Rice demanded the double-team, the double-stack, the two-man. If you double-teamed them, it was then at least an interesting contest. Not that they wouldn't beat your double-team over the game's course, but single coverage puts you in the history books the wrong way. Single coverage would get 63 points put on you, or a Double-Nickel, or five TDs in a reg season game, or three TDs in a Super Bowl. The reason John Taylor, Rice's Scottie Pippen, caught that pass -- and in fact it was the only pass he caught that day -- was because Jerry drew not only the coverage, but the attention of the DBs who weren't covering him."

Mesmerizing all-eyes-glued-to-him factor
Michael Jordan
Jordan took the Bulls from garbage to dynasty.
R-Dub: "Push. Nobody could ever take their eyes off either one. But put Jerry in motion and run him exploding off the line across the field, across the face of the DBs, they were drawn to him. They are drawn to him. That's why the Patriots are going to get burned this weekend, not by Jerry, but by Timmy Brown, who's better than either John Taylor or Scottie Pippen."

Road Dog: "Ditto Mike. Mike turned around the Washington Wizards. That's putting in Nobel Prize quality work. Winning at near-40 with a team whose top free-agent acquisition was Tyronn Lue. No offense. In fact, hardly any offense at all. Mike's winning with Jahidi White at center; Jahidi's hands are so bad he probably can hardly hold a knife and fork -- for God's sake, don't give him no chopsticks, tell him to eat. He'll starve to death. Mike's winning with his power forward, Christian Laettner, in a walking cast and civvies. Mike is making Richard Hamilton look like Allen Iverson. Mike is leaving Doug Collins with nothing to say and no reason to cry. It's like, he's a miracle or something."

Changing ball -- footprints on the game
R-Dub: "Records? We don't need no stinking records. Jer? Every time he gains a yard, catches a pass, scores a TD or blows his nose, it's book ... but what he leaves behind are a generation of receivers who try to take it to the house every time they touch it. Really, that was what made him ... they used to say he was a product of the West Coast offense, the Walsh system. Looks like that System went to Oakland with him. Looks like he was his own System."

Road Dog: "Look at Kobe Bryant. Look at Tracy McGrady. Look at Kevin Garnett. Look at Vince Carter. Look at all of 'em. All-court, position-free players. EEK players. Extension, Elevation, Knowledge. Still working on knowledge. Mike is ... temperor."

R-Dub: "You mean template?"

Road Dog: "I mean The Emperor. The Example. The King. Last few weeks have you seen him? Been taking KG, taking T-Mac. Taking them, not over the top necessarily, because they can jump higher more often than he can now. So he change-of-paces 'em, jump-shoots 'em, pump-fakes 'em, up-and-unders 'em, gets 'em off balance then goes by 'em and loops, scoops and makes 'em droop. There'll be something different one day -- hell, there is now. Kobe Bryant is different, and I can't wait for that matchup in a few weeks, but there will never be another Michael Jordan. You can't say that about Jerry. Not with Randy Moss around."

R-Dub: "Randy is to Jerry what Kobe is to Mike. Take their superior athletic ability away from the young boys right now, and what would you have? Two egos in need of a good Shao-lin Temple education. Kobe is much more developed that way, but both are still kids. In Jerry's and Mike's primes, not only were they better than Randy and Kobe are now -- they were far better. The young boys might get there one day, but the odds really are against them. They'd have to fool me. The odds are against them because to match the mental toughness and mentality and acumen of Rice and Jordan is unprecedented. It may never be done again. Not until we see it, and recognize it again. Even then, they will be the standard. How do I know? Anybody forgotten Babe Ruth?"

Knowledge of the game
Jerry Rice
Rice isn't as fast as he was in San Francisco, but he's certainly smarter.
Road Dog: "Dudes say, 'How can Mike be taking KG to the hole like that? That's KG, man!' Yeah, and like that ain't Mike out there. 'How can he be controlling a game with Alley-I in it?' they ask me. By the pure and cold knowledge, not only of the game, but the players he's ballin' against -- he's got a jacket on them, their mentality, reaction tendencies and times ... it's like music, man."

R-Dub: "People ask, 'How does Jerry get so open?' Because he knows what he's doing. Other night against the Jets, got open by 10 yards on just a 20-yard TD pass from Rich Gannon. That one that made him the oldest player to score a playoff touchdown. To Jerry it was simple. He could've done it from his rocking chair. He almost did do it from his rocking chair.

"Wide left, he broke off the line; reads Aaron Glenn peeking into the backfield and not into his real backpedal right away, trying to disguise his coverage from Gannon. Rice read him fast. Glenn was faking his full backpedal, and his weight shifted as he prepared to come up. He was in zone, had tight outside responsibility. Cover 2 all the way. So Jerry knows within two steps that the safety has to come over for the deep outside responsibility. So Rice fades to the corner and looks back to Gannon and raises his hand. If Gannon throws the ball then, on time, it doesn't matter how fast he is. It doesn't matter how fast the safety is. Ball game.

"When Rice came out of college, they said he ran 4.6. Two hundred TDs later, we guess he still does. But it doesn't matter what he runs in shorts for a guy holding a stopwatch. That's track. You don't play track. You play football. Dig? Well, if you don't, recall that Ronnie Lott used to say, 'I don't care. Jerry's 4.2 in game speed.' Knowledge (and inertia) made him appear that way."

Current 2002 challenge
Road Dog: "Getting the Wizards to the playoffs (and dangling his gonies in Jerry Krause's face) ... and the way he's gonna do is the same way he did it before. When the double comes to him, he's going to will Rip Ham to make the shot ... and the most gratifying part for Rip will be the look of acceptance Money gives him."

R-Dub: "Helping the Raiders win the AFC semifinal in Foxboro against the Patriots. I'm gonna tell the Patriots what's coming here, and they still won't be able to stop it. Tim Brown will be beating them, if they do get beat. Tim Brown will be beating them, because there is no way Jerry Rice can run across the face of a DB without that DB's body being influenced that way. He will lean that way. He will turn. Once he's turned, he'll belong to Timmy Brown."

Road Dog: "Been a privilege to watch 'em both. Wonder if dudes appreciate what we be seeing over the last 20 years? We got two near-40 living legends become the greatest to ever play their games from positions you ain't supposed to be able to do it from. But, if your life depended on it, if it was for money, which one is the greatest? And most definitely, which one would you bet?"

R-Dub: "Depends on what you need I guess ..."

Road Dog: "To me, Money is Money."

R-Dub: "But to the DBs, Rice is God."

Road Dog: "And Jordan ain't? So you sayin' Jordan ain't God?"

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."