Jerry Rice Hall of Fame speech

August, 7, 2010
8/07/10
10:38
PM ET
I have something I have to admit to today. My uniform, the way I dress, is everything. I'm a very honest guy. I made a mistake today. I have a blue and a black sock on today (smiling).

Now, for me to do this speech, I need to borrow a black sock from someone (laughter). Just joking, guys.

Hey, look, thank you, Eddie DeBartolo, for that introduction. Thank you, thank you. I love you fans, especially the greatest fans in pro football, the 49er fans. Thank you, God, for allowing us to travel here safely. This has been such an unbelievable week. To the City of Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, thank you for your hospitality. It has been incredible. To the selection committee, thank you for bestowing this great honor to me.

I had never been on an airplane until I was drafted by the 49ers. And I left Crawford, Mississippi for a long, stomach-churning flight to San Francisco. I was scared to death, but excited at the same time. Scared about surviving the flight, excited like I am now because I knew I was joining a great team that had already won two Super Bowls. And, of course, we went on to win three more.

I was also part of the Oakland Raiders, a team I admired that also went to the Super Bowl.

But standing here today as the newest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, feeling like a rookie all over again, I can honestly say this is the greatest team I have ever belonged to. I'm truly honored and humbled.

I also feel very fortunate to be part of the 2010 Hall of Fame class. Russ Grimm, Dick LeBeau, Floyd Little, John Randle, another 49er Rickey Jackson, and, of course, the NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith. If not for you, Emmitt, and the Dallas Cowboys, there would be three more Super Bowl rings on my fingers (laughter).

[+] EnlargeJerry Rice
Andrew Weber/US Presswire"There are no more routes to run, no more touchdowns to score, no more records to set," Rice said."That young boy from Mississippi has finally stopped running. Let me stand here and catch my breath."
Rivalries are great for the NFL, and it's fitting that the 49ers and Cowboys are represented here today. We definitely made each other better. When I was a kid, I had these embarrassing huge hands that I would hide in my pockets. I was always running, even before I played sports. I ran everywhere. I didn't even know why. But I guess I was preparing myself for something, destined for something, but I didn't know what.

In the summertime, holidays, I would work with my father laying bricks for homes and businesses. We started at 5 a.m. and finished after dark. It was hot, hard work. My brothers and I would be the supply chain for bricks, and many times I would be the last link between the bricks and my father. Sometimes I would balance myself on the scaffolding two stories up and catch bricks thrown to me from the ground. There was a certain standard. Even though my job was to make sure that my dad had bricks and everything worked out smoothly, I took pride in it. There were no shortcuts. The concrete had to be laid a certain way. The bricks had to be stacked because any slowdown was money lost. It was a lot of pressure. I didn't want to let my father down. I was afraid to fail.

I'm here to tell you that the fear of failure is the engine that has driven me throughout my entire life. It flies in the faces of all these sports psychologists who say you have to let go of your fears to be successful and that negative thoughts will diminish performance. But not wanting to disappoint my parents, and later my coaches, teammates and fans, is what pushed me to be successful.

My dad was a hard man. I never saw him cry, and he didn't say, I love you. But like men of his generation, he expressed it in other ways. He taught us about responsibility at an early age. I miss him and I know he would be very proud of me today. I wish you were here, dad. I love you.

Despite the fear of knowing my mom and dad would whip me good, one day my sophomore year at B.L. Moor High School, I decided to play hooky with a friend. We got caught by the school principal, Mr. Ezell Wickes. He saw how fast I sprinted away from him and realized I could put my speed to better use. So after whacks with a leather strap, he forced me to meet with Charles Davis, our head football coach, who convinced me to come out for the team.

Coach Davis made us run hills after practice, 40 yards up, 40 yards down, a training regimen I kept doing 20 seasons in the NFL. I received a lot of letters from recruiters at big schools like USC, LSU, Mississippi State. But I chose Mississippi Valley State for two reasons: Coach Archie Cooley loved his team to throw the football, and they were the only ones who sent someone to see me play. Coach Cooley is here today. Thank you.

Before Joe Montana or Steve Young, there was Willie Totten, my quarterback at Mississippi State Valley University. We earned the nickname satellite express because the ball was seemingly in orbit. Willie is here today. Thank you.

It was a dream come true to be drafted by the 49ers, and I'm so proud to be part of such a classy organization, with the greatest owner ever, Eddie DeBartolo. The greatest coach of all time, Bill Walsh, and the greatest fans. There will never be another organization like that in the history of sports. To have two guys like that, who were all about winning. Eddie would say, I'll give you guys everything you want. You're going to have the best hotels, the best planes to travel on. You're going to go a day early to the East Coast. All I want is for you to do is win championships. Eddie was like that 12th man. He loved football, loved his players even more, and he wanted to win. And, man, did the 49ers win under Eddie DeBartolo. Five Super Bowls in 12 years.

Every player knew nothing was finer than to be a 49er, and some was willing to take pay cuts to play there. We were the envy of the NFL, the guys they said wore wing tips and carried briefcases because we were a first-class operation and meant business.

Just like he did after every game, Eddie has greeted players like Joe Montana, Steve Young, Fred Dean and me in Canton, Ohio. He deserves to be standing with us as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Thank you, Eddie. I love you and your family, your wife Candy, and your daughters.

I miss Bill Walsh every day of my life. I know he's up there looking down from heaven today smiling. What can I say about the genius, the legend? He was like magic. He would cast a spell on you just being in his presence. You wanted to win for this guy. There was just something about him, and he knew how to get the best out of his football players.

Bill is the reason I played in the NFL. He was like a father to me, someone I could talk to about relationships and business or professional football. I never wanted to let my father down, and I was afraid to let Bill Walsh down. He taught us to be perfect. If you failed to be perfect, then excellence would be within your grasp. He had every gift but length of years.

I love you, Bill, your wife Geri and your family. Jerry Lynn, thank you for joining us here today. I love my teammates and coaches. There are too many of them to mention. I was blessed to play for not one but two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Joe Montana and Steve Young. Joe was the ultimate prankster, put in Tiger balm in jocks and Steve would roll out of bed and come to work with his hair all messed up. Dwight Clark and Freddy Soloman, they were true professionals and took me under their wing. Even though they knew I was there eventually to replace them. To Roger Craig and Raymond Ferris, thank you for helping me take my training regimen to the highest level possible. I wasn't the most physical or the fastest receiver in the NFL, but they never clocked me on the way to the end zone. The reason nobody caught me from behind is because I ran scared. That old fear of failure again. It's hard to go into every game with a red X on your chest, and I could feel the hair rise on the back of my neck when people chased me.

People are always surprised how insecure I was. I love it when some commentary would refer to an upstart receiver as the next Jerry Rice. That made me work even harder. It was as if I was saying, You're going to have to work so hard to get to where I am, and if you can pay that price, you deserve it.

But I was always in search of that perfect game, and I never got it. Even if I caught 10 of 12 passes, or two of three touchdowns in the Super Bowl, I would dwell on the one pass I dropped.

I played for 20 years and I still believe in my heart I could play today. I played that long because I love this game of football. I loved everything about it, especially the fans. The stadium was my stage, and I was there every Sunday to put on a performance for the fans. I hope the players today respect the game, respect the men whose shoulders they are standing on. But most importantly, don't play for what the game can give them rather than what they can give to the game.

I felt proud every time I put on that uniform. That's why I'm still humbled to pose for pictures and to sign autographs. I'm a lot like my mom in that respect. If she just met you, she would invite you into her home and cook you dinner. She is the most caring and passionate person I know. I love you, mom.

Thank you to my brothers and my sisters for sharing this moment with me today. To my children, I am so proud of you. You are my life, and I love you with all my heart. I'm so looking forward to seeing you make your mark in this world.

To Jackie, thank you for being the anchor for our family and for supporting me for all these years. In addition, thank you to your family for their support.

To my management team, thank you for all those hats you wear and keeping me together all these years. To the York family and the 49ers organization, thank you for your continued support.

When you play as long as I have, there are a lot of people that have contributed to my journey. I regret that I cannot mention all of you today, but I hope you all know how important you are to me.

To my Dancing With the Stars family, you provided me with a whole new audience to thrill and a new challenge, another venue where I could be judged and triumph over my fear. All I had to do was wear sequins, an afro wig and heels.

Today I feel as if this honor of being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was made not just to me but mostly to my work, to my sweat and sacrifice of all those who carried me to the steps of this hallowed ground.

But if I have a single regret about my career standing here today, it's that I never took the time to enjoy it. I swear to God, this is true because I was always working. Right after the season, whether we won the Super Bowl or not, I would take two weeks off and go right back to training. The doubts, the struggles is who I am, and I wonder if I would have been as successful without them.

A lot of emotion that I kept submerged bubbled to the surface last February when my name was finally called for selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You see all the faces of the people that helped you reach your goal: My mom and dad, brothers and sisters, my family, my coaches, my teammates, the fans. But you also realize that it signals the end of your career.

But I am excited about tomorrow. I'm like the guy who jumps out of a high-rise building and every floor he passes on the way down, he says, So far so good. But this is finally it. There are no more routes to run, no more touchdowns to score, no more records to set. That young boy from Mississippi has finally stopped running.

Let me stand here and catch my breath. Let me inhale it all in one more time.

Thank you. Thank you. You know what, guys, I feel like dancing!

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