Jerry Rice rewrote the NFL record book in his unparalleled 20-year career. The Hall of Fame wide receiver holds nearly every career receiving record in both the regular and postseason, and second place is often not close.
This is particularly true in the case of touchdowns. His 197 receiving touchdowns are 41 more than second place Randy Moss, and his 208 total touchdowns are 33 more than runner-up Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.
Rice’s domination began at Division I-AA Mississippi Valley State, where the two-time All-American set records with 301 receptions, 4,693 yards and 50 touchdowns. His touchdown record stood for 22 years.
The San Francisco 49ers were impressed enough with Rice to make him the 16th overall pick of the 1985 NFL Draft. It wouldn’t be long before the small college standout would be setting records at the highest level.
After a solid rookie year in 1985, Rice was arguably the NFL’s best receiver in his second season. He led the league with 1,570 receiving yards and 15 touchdown catches in 1986, and was selected as a First Team All-Pro and Pro Bowler for the first time.
The next season, Rice set an NFL record with 22 touchdown receptions. What made the record even more impressive was that he did it in only 12 games in the strike-shortened year.
While Rice was dominating the regular season, the All-Pro wideout and his team fell short in the postseason from 1985-87. After winning the Super Bowl in 1984, the 49ers were one and done the next three years, with Rice being held scoreless and below 50 receiving yards in the three losses.
That all changed in 1988 as the 49ers won their third Super Bowl of the decade, and their first with Rice. In three postseason games, Rice caught 21 passes for 409 yards and six touchdowns. In his Super Bowl XXIII MVP performance, he had 11 receptions for 215 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers’ 20-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Rice and the 49ers repeated as champions in 1989, with the star receiver catching 82 passes for a league-leading 1,483 yards and 17 touchdown receptions in the regular season, and adding 19 catches for 317 yards and five touchdowns in three playoff games. In the 49ers’ 55-10 drubbing of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV, he had seven catches for 148 yards and three touchdowns.
The 49ers fell short of a three-peat in 1990, but Rice won the triple crown of receiving after leading the league with 100 receptions, 1,502 receiving yards and 13 touchdown catches. The season also marked his fifth straight First Team All-Pro selection, making Rice the first NFL player to accomplish the feat since Don Hutson had eight straight from 1938-45.
Rice continued his assault on NFL defenses over the next three years, leading the NFL with 14 touchdown catches in 1991, and leading the league in both receiving yards (1,503) and touchdown receptions (15) in 1993.
After losing to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game in 1992 and 93, the 49ers were back in the Super Bowl in 1994. Rice continued his dominance on the big stage, catching 10 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns in the 49ers’ 49-26 rout of the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.
In 1995, Rice had perhaps his finest season as a pro with 122 receptions for a then-record 1,848 receiving yards and 15 touchdown catches. It was the third straight season he led the NFL in receiving yards, and the sixth time in his career.
In 1996, Rice led the league with 108 receptions, his third consecutive season with over 100. He also made the Pro Bowl for the 11th straight year, a record for receivers, and was named First Team All-Pro for the fifth straight year and the 10th time overall, the latter a record for any position.
Several streaks came to an end in 1997 when Rice suffered a knee injury in the season opener. It was the first time he missed a game in his career, ending a streak of 189 consecutive games played. The year also brought an end to his streak of 11 straight Pro Bowls and 1,000-yard seasons.
The 36-year-old Rice bounced back in 1998 with 82 catches for 1,157 yards, nine touchdowns and his 12th Pro Bowl selection. The all-world wideout dropped below 1,000 yards for the first time in a full season in 1999 and again in 2000, his final year as a 49er.
In a move unthinkable a few years earlier, Rice signed a free agent contract with the Oakland Raiders in 2001. The future Hall of Famer found the fountain of youth across the bay, as the 39-year-old caught 83 passes for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns. He also had his second-highest receiving yard total in a playoff game with 183 in a 38-24 Wild Card win over the New York Jets.
Rice was even better in his age-40 season, with 92 catches for 1,211 yards and seven touchdowns in 2002. The year also brought Rice his fourth Super Bowl appearance. The Raiders were blown out 48-21 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII, but Rice had another strong showing with five catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.
Rice played one more full season with the Raiders in 2003 before being traded to the Seattle Seahawks for the final 11 games of the 2004 season. The NFL’s all-time leader in receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and touchdown catches (197) announced his retirement on September 5, 2005.
Rice also finished his career as the all-time leader in scrimmage yards (23,540) and total touchdowns (208). In 29 postseason games, he had 151 catches for 2,245 yards and 22 touchdowns, all records. The numbers are even better in the Super Bowl, with 33 catches for 589 yards and eight touchdowns in four games.
In likely the easiest decision in NFL history, Rice was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.