Jerry Rice Bids Farewell to 49ers

ByABC News

D E N V E R, Dec. 24, 2000 -- He may not have been at his home field, but San Francisco 49er football legend Jerry Rice received a standing ovation from the crowd at Mile High Stadium on Saturday, where he said good-bye to the team that he helped lead to multiple Super Bowl wins.

“I guess I did something right over the years, and I was very appreciative,” Rice said.

Jerry Rice, who holds the NFL receiving records for career yardsand touchdowns, played what figures to be his final game in a SanFrancisco uniform on Saturday as the 49ers fell to the Broncos 38-9in the last regular-season game at Mile High Stadium.

Despite all of the farewells, Rice and the 49ers lost to the Broncos Saturday 38-9.

Because of salary-cap constraints, Niners general manager BillWalsh is expected to release Rice in June, although the receiverwants to return for a 17th season.

“I’m not going to say it is my last game as a 49er, because Iwill always be a 49er,” Rice said. “That is something I will goover when it is time, but right now I’m still a 49er. I’m justgoing to wait and see what is going to happen in the offseason.”Will Rice Play Next Year?

If Saturday marked the end of Rice’s career in the Bay Area, hewould leave with an unparalleled resume that includes three SuperBowl rings. His six receptions for 61 yards Saturday gave him 1,281catches for 19,247 yards in his career.

“I hugged him after the game and told him he’s the greatest,”Broncos cornerback Terrell Buckley said. “I appreciate him lettingme even play against him. I hope somebody took a picture of me inmy bump-and-run stance so I can put it up on my wall.”

Denver linebacker Bill Romanowski, who spent six seasons withRice in San Francisco, also embraced his former teammate after thegame. It was a rare public display of affection for the otherwisehard-nosed Romanowski.

“Jerry has always been an inspiration for me from the day Istepped out on that football field and watched that guy perform dayin and day out,” he said. “The guy is amazing. He’s the bestthat’s ever played the game.”

The Denver fans seemed to agree as they took a break from theirvictory celebration to give Rice a final Mile High salute. Thecrowd chanted, “Jerry! Jerry!” as Rice headed toward the lockerroom.

Rice was unable to add to his NFL-record 176 touchdowns as theBroncos limited San Francisco’s offense throughout the day. For therecord, his final catch of the game was a 9-yard pass from JeffGarcia with about 6:30 remaining.

“There is more to it than football. We will miss what he bringsto the Bay Area in general,” Niners coach Steve Mariucci said.“He has been quite a generous person. If he is not a 49er nextyear, it will really be strange.”

The 49ers have offered Rice a $1 million bonus to retire, butRice reiterated his desire to play another season, even if it meanswearing another uniform for the first time since leavingMississippi Valley State in 1985.

“It may be a good-bye to this career, but life is going to goahead,” he said. “I know I still have some football in me.”

ABCNEWS Radio’s Steve Walsh, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.