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Rice Faces Former Team for First Time

November 03, 2002|Janie McCauley | Associated Press

OAKLAND — It's hours before kickoff. Jerry Rice is alone on the Coliseum grass, running through his structured warm-up routine.

A sprint here, a zigzag there, a stretch in between.

It's exactly the way the 40-year-old receiver has prepared for as long as he can remember, since he came into the league back in 1985 with the San Francisco 49ers. Now, playing with the Oakland Raiders on the other side of San Francisco Bay, he's set to suit up for his first regular-season game against his old team since leaving after the 2000 season.

"I can try to downplay it, but you know, I'm going against my old team, and I want to play well. I want the Black Hole to be just nasty this week," Rice said, referring to the rowdy group of Raiders fans who sit behind the south end zone.

He could get career touchdown No. 200 -- he scored the first 186 with the 49ers -- by reaching the end zone once on Sunday. Yet that doesn't matter as much to Rice as helping get the Raiders back on track following three straight losses after a 4-0 start.

Beating his old team would just make it that much sweeter.

For so long now, Rice has been Bay area football. He's been able to perform at close to the same level at age 40 as he did early in his career, thanks to a demanding physical regimen.

The 49ers could still use Rice. With underachieving J.J. Stokes and unproven Tai Streets as their only receiving threats beyond Terrell Owens, San Francisco is lacking a dependable No. 2 wideout.

"He's put the time and effort into staying healthy, and you see it on the field," 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "He's looked as if he hasn't lost any steps. He's looking even better than he did the last two years here, actually."

When the Niners let Rice go two years ago, they said they couldn't pay him what he was worth. They also wanted to see what Stokes and Streets could do with added responsibility. Rice insists he isn't holding a grudge. He appreciates that he got a fresh start.

"I have nothing against those guys," Rice said. "I have nothing against the coaches. They did me a great favor because it gave me a chance to rejuvenate myself. There's no animosity or anything.

"Then, when you snap that chin strap on, it's all about going out there and making plays and putting your team into position."

San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci would like there to be a way for teams to hold onto such key veterans.

"We've had so many salary cap casualties around here, and it's sad," Mariucci said. "I wish we could work something out where you wouldn't have to let a guy like that go. We had to move on for a lot of reasons."

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