Waldman’s Receivers to Defend the Planet: Jerry Rice, the Perfectionist


He’s the best receiver in the history of the game and arguably the greatest football player of all time, but was Jerry Rice a good teammate? Depends on your team.

Watch A Football Life episode on the 49ers great and it’s clear that Rice was an emotionally distant, obsessive perfectionist, whose pursuit of individual greatness was a lonely path.

He wasn’t one who kept things loose. He didn’t forge a deep camaraderie with teammates beyond executing his role. Deion Sanders’ “live for the moment” behavior grated on Rice.

So intent on perfection, he was a maniacal geek off on his own after practice making the relentless journey to a destination he’d never reach. The only thing he said to Michael Irvin at a Pro Bowl social event was that he was going to beat Dallas next year. A Pro Bowl social event. 

Workaholism is a characteristic that non-athletes in the football subculture worship. Grinding is glorified. But there’s value in rest. Physical, mental, and emotional batteries need recharging. Otherwise, execution dulls. Even Rice admits he didn’t enjoy much of his career.

It’s the reason I experienced hesitation about adding Jerry Rice to my team to defend the planet. Was Rice too self-centered? Do you want a player who expected to get his swan song on the field and when it didn’t happen he was the squeaky wheel on the sidelines? Do you want a player with enough pregame routines with his uniform that if something changed it threw him off? Do you want a player no one really knew?

In this case, yes…hell yes.

Rice didn’t intend it this way, but his nature is an irritant that actually inspires. His obsessive nature challenges colleagues to work a little harder. His difficulty loosening up will annoy at certain moments. But sometimes you need that friction.

Rice didn’t care what his teammates thought, his approach morning, noon, and night as a football player was about being as individually great as anyone could be. He’s the extreme example of self-centered behavior where the positives of intense self-focus on his tasks far outweighed the negatives of ignoring team-building because his standards for his performance were higher than anyone could have put on him. Rice believed if he took care of this responsibility, his team would win.

And they did.

But I would not want multiple players like Rice on my team. Leading by example is inspiring. Serious-minded personalities that push teammates to buckle down is sometimes necessary. There’s also a point where a team can get too uptight and a bunch of me-focused, navel-gazing, deadly solemn solo artists can drain morale.

I’m seeking balance and that comes from the strength that diversity creates. There is data in Corporate America that diversity creates better performing teams than homogeneous personnel. Diversity in this case is primarily about personality types.

Brett Favre will bring the humor and keep things loose. Steve Smith will bring the fire and keep things real. And Marshawn Lynch will bring the individuality and shake up the status quo.

Rice will bring what researcher Daniel Chambliss (thanks Dan Hatman) calls the mundanity of excellence and he will maintain consistency at the highest level of performance regardless of the situation.

There is no single mentality to address every dangerous situation. Sometimes you need jokes (Favre), sometimes you need to see fight (Smith), sometimes you need to turn the situation on its head (Lynch), and sometimes you need to see a guy who has unshakable faith that if you let him do his job everything will turn out alright (Rice).

Rice will be my flanker. He’ll be in a West Coast Offense.  He run great routes and show impeccable hands. He’ll win anywhere on the field. And he’ll excel through pain, sleet, or snow.

He’s the Timex’s unabating second hand that never stops ticking–no matter the licking.

Matt Waldman runs this joint called the Rookie Scouting Portfolio blog. He also writes one of the most insanely comprehensive analysis of skill position prospects available to the public called the RSP. Draftniks and fantasy owners swear by it.  Download the RSP and RSP Post-Draft for one insane price here and 10 percent of each sale is donated to Darkness to Light, which trains individuals, communities, educators, coaches, government and civic organizations to prevent and address sexual abuse in their communities. Learn more about the RSP publications

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