Jerry Rice goes into the Hall of Fame Saturday and it seems like he's been there 10 years already.
"He is a Hall of Famer who is still a very young receiver," said Mel Blount, himself a Hall of Famer, back in 1990.
In Rice's case, the five-year waiting period for Hall of Fame consideration seemed to begin when Rice was a rookie in 1985, not when he finally retired two decades later. Almost, anyway. Rice wasn't perfect. He did suffer through some rookie drops and fans booed him. He came to regret holding out for a new contact in 1992. He hung on a little too long, finishing regrettably with the Seattle Seahawks and even going to camp with the Denver Broncos.
But if you're looking for the perfect NFL player, you'll struggle to find anyone better than Jerry Lee Rice. Some protested when I held up Rice as the greatest player in NFL history, but Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis stated the case simply.
"I don't know what argument you're going to make why he is not," Lewis said during Super Bowl week.
It's probably safer to say Rice enjoyed the greatest career in league history. At the very least, we can agree it's impossible to have the Greatest of All Time debate without strongly considering the player Blount declared a Hall of Famer two decades before Rice was even eligible.
My favorite Rice stat: He had 1,000 receptions for 13,546 yards and 102 touchdowns after he turned 30. Marvin Harrison, Cris Carter and Terrell Owens are the only other players with career totals that high for all three categories.
Mel Blount declared Rice a Hall of Famer five years into Rice's career. Rice later achieved more after his 30th birthday than all but a few receivers.
Granted, the game changed and passing stats suffered from inflation. Rice benefited from the changes. He also revolutionized or at least foreshadowed the way NFL athletes trained to maximize their potential, extend their career and rewrite record books.
Rice turns 48 in October and there's no realistic way his body could hold up to the rigors of the NFL at this stage, or he'd still be playing. But if a team needed a receiver for only one game, Rice would probably come through just fine.
"Yeah, I still work out hard," Rice said recently. "I am running probably in a week's time about maybe 20 miles or something like that. I still go to the gym. I do my lifting. I might be on the VersaClimber or the treadmill 45 minutes to an hour. This is something that has been a part of my life and something I enjoy doing. I am going to continue doing it. I haven't really took any time off. I enjoy working out and I am working just as hard as when I played professional football."
Rice still runs the trail he made legendary as a player. The competitiveness is still there, too (Rice even briefly tried pro golf). He'll probably never kick back and relax voluntarily.
Here's hoping Rice can slow down enough Saturday to rest on his laurels, if only for an afternoon. He's earned it.