Rice Mulls Jordan-Like Retirement in His Prime

MIAMI -- If Michael Jordan can do it, so can San Francisco receiver Jerry Rice -- retire in his prime after winning championships and dominating games.


At least Rice is considering retiring, as he said Monday, providing some spice to the beginning of Super Bowl Week.


"Football for 10 years has been great to me," Rice said. "I'm not saying I'm retiring. That's a decision I will think about after the season is over.


"If the fire is still there, I'll come back next year. I still feel like a young kid. I am in better shape now than when I came in."


Should Rice, at 32 the league's career touchdowns leader, quit after Sunday's Super Bowl against San Diego, it would place him in the company of Jordan, who left the NBA's Chicago Bulls at age 30 -- and at the top of his game.


Rice had his ninth straight 1,000-yard season in 1994, when he set a personal high with 112 catches. Clearly, he isn't losing anything.


Except, perhaps, the drive that makes him so special.


"I reiterate ... he is the hardest working man I know," quarterback Steve Young said. "He is possessed to be the greatest receiver in football history and he is there. I think it is not only because of his talent -- that is one part of it -- but he is possessed to be there.


"There are not a lot of people who have that work ethic, who are willing to make a sacrifice."


But is Rice ready to sacrifice attaining all the major receiving records, which would certify him as No. 1, the Michael Jordan of his game?


"When my career is over, I would like to hold every record," Rice said. "It's not going to be easy. You have to stay healthy."


You also have to be active.


"I think if we win it all, maybe Jerry will say, 'What more is left for me?'" teammate Jesse Sapolu said. "There's a lot of football left in that man. You tell him I said that."


Should Rice leave, the 49ers are likely to flinch a bit, then find a way to fill the gap. It might be the biggest hole they've ever filled, but they always find a way.


Their mission this year, for instance, was simple but lofty: Build a champion. Build it now. Do it despite salary cap limitations. And don't mess up.


So far, so good. The 49ers stand at the edge of achieving the unprecedented, becoming the first NFL team with five Super Bowl titles. They are 19-point favorites over the San Diego Chargers to get it in Sunday's championship game.


With all those expectations, the 49ers should be wound as tight as the laces on a football. So why are they so loose, so relaxed, so carefree?


"We're one of those teams that right at the beginning of the season, we say, 'We want to win the Super Bowl,'" running back Ricky Watters said. "That places a tremendous amount of pressure on us. But we want it and we like it. We respond to it."


Everything seems to be to San Francisco's advantage this week. The NFC has won 10 straight Super Bowls, three by the 49ers. The Chargers are in their first Super Bowl, and they lost to the Niners 38-15 in December.


Nearly all the stars in this game wear 49ers red, gold and white. Young, Rice, cornerback Deion Sanders for starters.


"Players like that know all about dealing with pressure," coach George Seifert said. "It behooves us to be at our best for the game. Do I have to talk a lot about it? No. Have we talked some about it? Certainly, we have."


While 12 San Francisco players, including eight offensive starters, have been to the Super Bowl, just five Chargers have gotten this far.


Two of them, quarterback Stan Humphries and cornerback Darren Carrington, are starters, but neither had any kind of impact in previous trips with other teams.


The other Super Bowl veterans are linebacker Steve Hendrickson, backup quarterback Gale Gilbert and backup defensive tackle John Parrella. They also were relative nonentities in previous Super Bowl appearances.


So experience clearly is on San Francisco's side, too.


"They've been this far and most of us haven't," Chargers tackle Harry Swayne said. "But this team has been very good at taking advantage of opportunities."


Leslie O'Neal, the Chargers' Pro Bowl defensive end and their most tenured player, since 1986, said the team's work ethic can pay off.


"We've worked all year to be in this position, and it was a tremendous amount of work," he said. "Now, we have a chance to really make it a complete and successful season."


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Butch Davis, the Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator, is slated to be the new head coach of the Miami Hurricanes. A news conference was planned for Tuesday to announce his hiring, according to a university source who asked not to be identified.


Davis has no head coaching experience, which the Hurricanes had been looking for, but was a Miami defensive assistant 1984 to 1988 under Jimmy Johnson before following Johnson to the Cowboys in 1989.


Dennis Erickson left two weeks ago to become head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Several college head coaches reportedly declined invitations to interview for the Miami job.