Excerpt: 'Go Long,' by Jerry Rice

Jan. 15, 2007 — -- Jerry Rice has been dubbed the best professional football player ever. Not only has he stormed the field, he's also heated up the dance floor on ABC's hit series, "Dancing With the Stars."

In his new book, "Go Long!: My Journey Beyond the Game and the Fame," Rice reveals how he rose to success. He shares with readers the inspirational lessons that have helped shape his life on the field and off.

Not just for football fans, "Go Long" is an empowering book for anyone driven to succeed.

Read an Excerpt from "Go Long" Below:

Way Down South

Close your eyes and imagine a small town in the Deep South. A certain picture probably pops up: dirt roads, pickup trucks, hot sweaty August days. Whether you have visited the area, or simply recall a small southern town from a movie, your image is probably close to reality. Now picture that same small town much, much smaller. That's the best way to introduce my hometown of Crawford, Mississippi. There are no stoplights, very few street signs, a few broken-down sidewalks, and not that many people -- somewhere between five hundred and a thousand back when I was growing up. But not only were we small in numbers, it seemed like we were all distant cousins. Everyone knew everyone else, and everyone old enough to be a parent was a parent to all the kids. You couldn't get away with much.

I was the sixth of eight kids born to Joe and Eddie B. Rice, two native Mississippians. There were my older siblings, Eddie Dean, Joe, Tom, Jimmy, and James, and my younger ones, Loistine and Zebedee. We were a big family, but close. I shared a bedroom with three of my brothers, so sometimes we were too close! We lived on seven acres in a house that my father built with his own hands, about thirty minutes outside of the 'town' of Crawford. So you can imagine just how far out we lived. There was thigh-high brush, swampland, wild horses, and dirt roads, not to mention the nearly triple-digit weather most days. We had a few neighbors 'within calling distance,' as my mother would say, including my grandparents. I was a true southern boy from the sticks.

My father, Joe, stood six feet, and weighed maybe 280 pounds. He was the provider for the family and the rule-maker, and oh, how we all followed the rules. My father was intimidating and could be mean -- very mean -- but in the way he thought was right. Life was hard and he believed it was his job to prepare us for it. His intimidating scowl and raised voice would scare a common man, let alone a group of children. Occasionally, I saw a different side to my dad, a side that rarely raised its head. He loved to fish, and I would tag along on the hour-long walk to a nearby lake where he would stake his spot and search for catfish. He was relaxed on the lake and took joy in snaring a big one. But he didn't fish that often, which meant most of the time, my 'other' dad was in control.

His hands were crusty from so many days out in the Mississippi sun building homes, laying bricks, brick by brick, day after day, all year long; sometimes he'd work two or three different jobs to get money.

In the South close to thirty years ago, affection wasn't shown much between parents and children, or even between parents. When it was time to be tough, my father could be tough. If one of us did something wrong, my father would instruct us to go into the backyard and pick a stick -- a stick he would then use to beat us on our behinds and back, to teach us a lesson or two. Sometimes he pulled out a large leather belt and whipped us good. The extension cord hurt as well. He would whip me and my brothers and my sisters -- no one was immune. The beatings hurt so bad that they were a good deterrent to keep us all out of trouble. I remember one evening, when I was about fourteen years old, a few of my brothers and sisters and I snuck out of the house to go to a neighbor's to watch the Jackson Five perform on television. We didn't have a TV but we were big Jackson Five fans. So, despite my father's insistence that we not leave the house, we did. The beatings upon our return left a mark -- literally and figuratively. But that's how they did it where and when I grew up. I guess the fear of getting hit by the stick and the intimidating look on my father's face kept pushing me to do the right thing. And it still does.

My mother, Eddie B., was short, a conservative woman with a grand heart who welcomed any and all into our home for lavishly cooked meals. She raised us while my father worked. But despite the economic struggles, I think it's safe to say that my parents did a pretty good job raising all of us, treating us all as equals. On Sundays we would go to the Pinegrove Missionary Baptist Church for services as a family and in the evenings we would sit around the dinner table together. That's just what we did.

My childhood was like that of many young boys -- I played sandlot football into the night, read Sports Illustrated under the covers, and bellyached when it was time to get up and go to school. In the summertime and over the holidays, I worked with my father laying bricks for homes and businesses. Bricklaying is demanding, tough work. We would be up at five a.m. and work until sundown. My brothers and I would be the supply chain for my father, who actually laid the brick and mortar onto the structure. It was our job to make sure that the bricks were ready to be laid down and the mortar prepared to be spread. On many occasions, I was the last link between the bricks and my father. My brothers and I would bring the bricks to a worksite and pass them from one to another until handing them to my dad for placing. Often, when my father had moved on to the second floor of a structure, I would balance myself on the scaffolding two stories up and catch bricks that my brothers would throw to me from the ground. (Some like to say that's where my great catching hands for football came from -- I'm not so sure. Brick-catching requires hard hands and an aggressive approach; catching a football requires soft hands to cradle. Regardless, the hand-eye coordination had to help me down the road.)

Bricklaying wasn't fun work, but it earned us money, some of which I turned over to my parents to help pay for clothes and groceries. I do remember how anxious I was to make sure there was always a brick and mortar for my father. I didn't want to let him down. Time is money in the bricklaying business, so any slowdown in supply cost my father money. That's a lot of pressure on a teenager. I was afraid to fail. But you know what? Fear of failure isn't always a bad thing. It helped keep me focused on the task. And a fear of failure has carried me through my life.

It's probably a big surprise to many of you that I am so insecure about success. In fact, it took me years to admit that fear is at the root of my performance. It goes against much of what the literature and 'gurus' out there insist, that you have to let go of your fear to ever be successful; that you can't be afraid to fail. I don't think that's an absolute. My fear of failing as a child carried over onto the football field in high school and then college. I was so concerned about not being successful that it pushed me to be successful. All of those extra hours in the gym or on the track or on the practice fields were more than just about hard work; they were about avoiding failure. Before every game of my NFL career I was scared -- scared to drop the big pass, scared I'd let my teammates down. And now I realize it all goes back to not wanting to disappoint my father.

My parents' parenting proved that hard work and shared responsibility works. There were no slackers among us, as everyone had to pull their weight. Mom and Dad taught us that money is not everything. Mom insisted that love was the only thing we all needed. We went without on many occasions, meaning we didn't have many pairs of pants or shoes. Even a hearty meal at dinnertime was a luxury on many nights.

There were other ways to make money besides bricklaying when I was growing up in Mississippi, and one of those jobs may surprise you. A big revenue stream for business owners down south was agriculture, particularly cotton and corn. To get the goods to the market, the products first had to be picked from the ground. I know what you're thinking: Isn't picking cotton something slaves did? Yes. But I didn't think of it that way. I saw it as a way to buy groceries for my family and some clothes for myself. My siblings worked alongside me in humid heat, picking the corn stalks, baling hay, and yes, picking cotton. I was certainly aware that many blacks in the south had been forced to pick cotton for centuries but that didn't stop me from earning a day's wage. Some of our black friends and neighbors refused to work in the fields and questioned why we were willing to. But to me, it was about earning money, and since we were being paid, I never thought of it as trampling on the memory of our forefathers and mothers and I still don't.

Sure, there was racism in Mississippi. We're talking about the 1960s and 1970s, a time when the civil rights movement was under way but slow to reach parts of America. Yet growing up, I never once experienced racism firsthand. No one called me the N word, no one painted racist slogans on our home or burned a cross on our lawn; we were lucky. But from what family and friends told me, I also knew I probably would get dirty stares if I walked into certain parts of the county that were predominantly white. Maybe it was because of my skin color, maybe because I couldn't afford many of the goods on store shelves in those areas. I did have a few white friends, a few white classmates, but for the most part, blacks surrounded me. There was an area down Route 12 we called the Crossroads, where blacks and whites hung out, but never together, and I did go down there on occasion, but always stayed with the blacks. (Years later, after I made it in the NFL, the whites didn't give me nasty stares when I hung out in 'their' area, probably because I wasn't just some black guy from the country.)

One of the more unusual aspects of living out in the country lands of Mississippi was the thrilling and exhausting practice of riding wild horses. But this isn't a Seabiscuit story where you would wake up early morning, walk out to the stable, pat your horse down, and hop on for a dawn ride. No, just getting on the horse was a challenge. You see, the horses ran wild over the countryside, so if you wanted to go for a quick jaunt on top of the animal, you first had to chase it down. And that takes a lot of work and patience. On a good day, it would take me forty-five minutes to an hour to chase down a horse. With no fences and no boundaries, just imagine the size of the pasture we were dealing with. (And when I went riding with friends, we had to chase down the first horse, tie him up or use him to chase down the others, before we actually got to have fun riding!)

My favorite horse I called Pete. Boy, was he fast. He could make quick turns (like a good wide receiver) and his black mane made him easily identifiable. As time went on, I got faster chasing down Pete and the other horses. You would be amazed at what experience teaches you. I realized that it wasn't about being in the spot the horse was; it was about being in the spot the horse was going to be. I began to think one step ahead and it actually slowed down the chase for me.

I loved to play sandlot football or shoot hoops outside on the farm but I was never in love with any one sport and certainly never thought one would be part of my destiny. I remember Fourth of July cookouts and baseball games and I remember the Christmas days when I was given a new football. I never asked for one, I just got them. I'd go outside and toss the ball around with my brothers, but never put much thought into playing the game for real. I did read about and watch guys like the Dallas Cowboys' Drew Pearson and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Lynn Swann. I appreciated how they dominated the game -- but I never wanted to be them. I watched our high school team play and was impressed by our quarterback, little man Kent Thomas, who was just five foot eight, but who took command of the huddle and the field, wore his uniform crisp and clean, and earned the respect of his teammates.

My older brothers were my playmates and teammates in our mock games of football or basketball or even the simplest games of skill. Tom and James were tremendous athletes. James could catch, shoot, and hit better than just about anyone I knew -- and he was born deaf. To compensate for his handicap, James used his intelligence. Boy, was he smart. But while we did all we could to help him be social, it wasn't enough. So, when I was just ten and James sixteen, we drove up to Jackson, Mississippi, to a school for the deaf and settled James into his new home. We were devastated to leave him behind. But the school turned out to be a great thing, and James soon learned sign language and made all kinds of friends. He would return to Crawford to work with my father in the bricklaying business. Despite not being able to hear or speak, James was a legitimate bricklayer, earning the real money, while most of us -- his siblings -- were merely helpers.

As a child and a teenager, I was very shy. I didn't have that many friends and spent a great deal of time on my own, playing sports, reading books, and running. I ran everywhere: from our home to school and back; from Crawford to the country. Some days I would just run on random paths to see where they would take me. This was before I played sports in high school so I wasn't doing it to get in shape for the season and I certainly wasn't going to be a marathoner. Twenty-six miles is a long way in Mississippi heat. I just ran. 'Run, Forrest, run!' It's an oft-quoted line from the 1994 film Forrest Gump, in which a young man, after having leg braces removed, just runs and runs and runs. As an adult, he runs across America, not really sure why or where he was going. If the movie had come out back when I was a kid, they would have nicknamed me Forrest. I ran with no real purpose or goal. I just enjoyed running. I didn't need a stopwatch or a team tryout or any other goal to motivate me on those hot July days back in Mississippi.

Since I didn't play sports initially in school, I wasn't allowed to use the track or the workout facilities at school. We didn't have any money to buy weights so I lifted tire rims in an empty room in our house. I would find a pole and attach rims on both ends to serve as a barbell. I didn't really know why I worked out so much. Maybe because I watched bodybuilders on television and was impressed with the way they looked? Maybe if I looked like them I'd have more friends and attention from girls? Even I was a little vain. But I really think I ran without a goal in mind.

Goals are good things to have, make no mistake, and I set short-term and long-term goals routinely. But I don't believe you have to have a goal to get going. We are all different and have unique assets that we bring to the table. How we use those assets determines how successful we are. A problem I have with goals is how they are set. Plateau goals to me are levels -- like statistics. I am going to run a mile in six minutes or bake two hundred cookies or sell forty cell phones. They set the bar for you but what happens if you run the mile in 6:01 or bake 198 cookies or sell thirty-eight cell phones? Are you a failure? Of course not.

I didn't have that many goals, in school or in life, when I entered the student body at B. L. Moor High School. Moor was small, with about twenty-five kids in each class from some of the poorer communities in Oktibbeha County. Many of our classes were held in trailers, as the original school building was outdated and too small. School was okay for me, something I knew I had to do, even though my parents often had to push me to do my homework. Math, English, science, and the like never really took a liking to me, nor I to them. I did enjoy auto shop class because I enjoyed working with my hands and putting together engines from scrap. As I worked on engine parts and calibrators, I recall my mind wandering back then, thinking about the future. What else was out there in the world besides Mississippi and bricklaying? I knew I didn't want that to be my future, and soon destiny came calling.

One day in early September of my sophomore year of high school, 1978, I decided to play hooky with a friend, despite the fear of getting caught and whipped by my father. We snuck out of class to make our way off campus. Suddenly, the school principal, Mr. Ezell Wickes, spotted us. He and I made eye contact before we bolted. Mr. Wickes never caught up to us but seeing that this was a small school, he easily recognized my face and clothing. Suffice to say, I knew what I had coming when I returned. He had a big old leather strap in his office and he gave me five hard hits with it. It was painful.

But Mr. Wickes witnessed how fast I had sprinted away from him, and realized my speed could be put to good use to keep me out of trouble. So he forced me to meet with Charles Davis, the head football coach at B. L. Moor. After an initial conversation between us, him doing most of the talking, he convinced me to try out for the football team. My mother was against it initially, as she was concerned about my body, and she also knew that my shyness might be a liability in such a rough game -- shyness in that I didn't like confrontation and never seemed very aggressive. (And she thought basketball was my future, anyway.) As for my father, he seemed indifferent, more concerned with bricklaying and providing for the family. My older brother Tom was already a high school football star so it wasn't that my parents didn't know what the sport was all about -- the violent hits, the summer workouts, the emphasis on football from local townspeople, as it was the thing to do on Friday nights. As for me, if I was going to play, it wasn't good enough just to be average. I had to be great. The only way I knew how to do anything was to outwork, outperform, and outplay everyone else. Even though my father wasn't there watching, I felt he was, and I didn't want to disappoint him.

Coach Davis knew when to be tough but also when to show compassion. I immediately took a liking to him as tryouts began. I wasn't scared, though I knew the other guys had an advantage over me because they had played organized football before. I wanted the guys to accept me. The best way I thought I could do that was to work hard and get good -- fast.

It took me a while to learn the game of football. I watched the older guys on the team and copied how they practiced and how they played. Not only was I still impressed by the little quarterback, Kent Thomas, but I idolized Lester Tate, a bulky running back who had speed and grace. He was the man on the field and popular in the school hallways.

Both Kent and Lester had style. They had something in their attitude that personified confidence. It wasn't arrogance; it was a complete presentation of how they looked, how they practiced, and how they approached every game. Presentation is everything and it's something that I have lived by every day since. (More on that later.)

The high school team practiced and played on a field that was more dirt than grass, surrounded by barely a hundred seats with stadium lights on one side. The helmets and pads and uniforms were in poor condition. The upperclassmen and starters got the 'best' equipment, and by best I mean the least torn up. Pants, shoes, and socks were all in very limited supply. Not having much made me want more. If there was money in the school to spend, and there wasn't much, it tended to go toward things like books and classroom materials.

I worked hard in tryouts and was fortunate enough to make the team as a tenth grader, despite my rookie tendencies, like running the wrong route, dropping easy balls, and even putting on my pads the wrong way. When it came to the season, though, I played sparingly as a kick returner and, occasionally, as a defensive back and receiver. Because of my size, lanky build, good hands, and speed, returning kicks and playing receiver and defensive back seemed like a good fit. Speed was necessary to be a running back, but at six foot one, I was just too tall and I certainly didn't know enough about the game to be a quarterback. I didn't quite have the game or the techniques down, but I was in great condition. True to form, after a tough practice I would run the ten miles or so back home.

Coach Davis used to run us up and down hills every day after practice as either a form of conditioning or punishment, forty yards up, and forty yards down. Guys would be throwing up on the way up and down. I remember after practice one day I decided to run some more hills to get in better condition on my own. I started up the slope, sweating profusely in the hot August sun of Mississippi, and said, 'I give up.' I was so tired and hot I walked back down the hill and headed to the locker room to hang it up for the day. But then the voices in my head started to talk. 'Never quit!' I kept hearing over and over again. I stopped walking, turned around, and started running the hills again.

Before the following season, my junior year, I knew what I needed to do to get better; I worked hard in the off season to get faster and stronger. I watched the upperclassmen as I waited for my opportunity. Some summer days I would be up at dawn, work all day long with my father and brothers laying brick, get dropped off at school for practice, and then have to run the ten miles home because I had no ride. The run home was often in pitch darkness and the route took me along woods. It was silent and dark and the littlest sounds from the woods scared me to death. So I would pick up my pace.

I had to be the best and had to prove myself to Coach Davis and to my teammates. Maybe that came from always wanting to please my father. As a result, my junior year was my breakout season. I focused on playing receiver and defensive back, and playing one position helped me play the other. I learned how to run routes and how to cover, how to receive and how to intercept, but mostly, I just relied on instinct and reacted to my opponent. Our team won games and I started to shine on the field, scoring touchdowns and smothering opponents on defense.

I was still very shy, avoiding crowds and girls, and I only had one or two buddies with whom I occasionally hung out. I was comfortable as a loner and didn't let anyone get close to me. I was so used to being alone that it was comforting to me just to be on my own. (I still am somewhat of a loner today.) But classmates and teachers started to notice me more, as I became more of a leader and star on the football field. I have to admit, it was nice to have classmates approach me and say, 'Good job' after a Friday game. But it wasn't satisfying for me the way I had hoped. I thought if I excelled on the field and gained recognition from classmates, it would make me feel whole. I was wrong. I did like being part of a team, as it allowed me to feel that I fit in somewhere, but a big piece of me still felt like a loner. My parents were supportive of my game and efforts, and always tried to be there for every game, though my mother cringed every time I took a lick on the field, something she never got used to.

Though my stardom blossomed, and I came to love playing football, I did give other sports a try, competing in the high jump on the track team and playing forward on the Moor High School basketball team. I wasn't a typical high jumper, who approached the bar, twisted, and turned my body before leaping backward over the bar and landing on my back. No, I just leapt and straddled the bar, landing on my feet. My first year on the track team, one of our stars was entered in so many events, our coach replaced him with me in the anchor leg of the team relay. For those of you not familiar with a track relay, each team has four runners, and each runner runs one lap around the track after being passed a baton from a teammate. Typically, the fastest runner runs the last or anchor lap. Well, on this particular day in the late 1970s, I was the anchor runner and was handed the baton with about a twenty to thirty yard lead on the next closest team. I was home free! I bolted out and burned out. I got sucked up by the runner behind me who blew past and won the race for his team. After I crossed the finish line, I remember collapsing onto my knees, dehydrated and exhausted. I had let my team down and failed.

It took me many more years to recognize that I couldn't win at everything. Abraham Lincoln lost elections before becoming our great president. Henry Ford went bankrupt before creating the automobile empire that bears his name. Babe Ruth failed to get a hit the majority of times he came to the plate. Michael Jordan missed twice as many shots as he made. If those at the top of their profession don't win in everything all the time, I think it's safe to say that neither will we.

Regardless of my failures on the track, it was football that drove me and moved me, a game that was my great escape. As my athleticism improved and I found myself with a more complete skill set, it began to occur to me that football could be my way out of Mississippi and the only life I knew. But my brother had thought this way, too.