Ray Rice -- like mother, like son
Ray Rice story airs on "E:60," Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
"He kicked me all the time," Janet Rice, Ray's mother, said between fits of laughter. "I guess it was payback. I've been a prankster all my life. And before Ray entered this world, he was pranking me."
Like any good prankster, Rice has always had impeccable timing. Take, for example, Jan. 22, 1987 -- the day he was born.
"It was the blizzard of '87," Janet said. "Of course that's when Ray decides he's ready, six weeks early! And I could barely make it to the hospital, that's how bad it was outside. That's why he's a blizzard baby."
The Blizzard Baby's tricks have gotten bolder with each passing year. Just last fall, Rice invited kids from his hometown of New Rochelle, N.Y., to the Baltimore area for a tour of the Ravens' training facility. His mother just happened to be in town and joined them. And Rice just happened to think it would be funny to run onto the field and tackle her in front of the kids. So he did. And Janet laughed the loudest.
In June, he took his mother and three siblings to the Bahamas for some relaxation and, as it turned out, high jinks by the sea. After Janet went to sleep, Rice painted her face with baby powder. In a nod to the godfather of punk, Ashton Kutcher, he took photos and showed them to everyone.
Why does Rice play tricks on his mother so much?
"Because she does it to me," he said, adding: "I'm very proud to say I'm a mother's boy. I am a certified mother's boy with a check on it."
Rice, 24, saves his best tricks for Sundays, escaping defenders significantly bigger than he is. At 5-foot-8, Rice is one of the craftiest running backs in the NFL, having amassed 1,776 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns last season, his third with the Ravens.
Few people expected such production when Baltimore selected him in the second round of the 2008 draft with the 55th pick. He had a successful career at Rutgers but was widely regarded as too small to be an NFL star. But he has been overcoming long odds his entire life, with his mother always by his side.
The relationship between Rice and Janet, 48, is tighter than a well-thrown spiral, having endured poverty and loss. Rice's rise from The Hollows -- a housing project in New Rochelle, N.Y., where gunfire seemed as commonplace as pickup football on concrete -- to the NFL is chronicled in an "E:60" feature scheduled to air at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday on ESPN.
"My childhood was different, needless to say," Rice said. "But it was nothing that I couldn't overcome because of how strong my mom was throughout the process."
Rice was a year old when his father, Calvin Reed, was killed in Mount Vernon, N.Y. Reed was the unintended victim of a drive-by shooting. Ray's cousin Myshaun Rice-Nichols served as a father figure to him in the following years. But when Ray was 11, Myshaun died in a car accident. Throughout the chaos, the bond between Ray and Janet grew firmer.
Janet was forced to hold several jobs. To help ends meet, Rice got a job at a barbershop sweeping floors and removing hair from customers' clothes.
"I was brushing people off, bringing my little tips home to my mom, whether it was 10, 15 dollars," he said.
When he was in high school, he returned home one day to see his mother in tears. She had been fired from her job working in a day care center because, she said, she asked for a raise.
"Any time you watch your mom cry, it's not a good feeling," he said. "There were times I would think like, 'There's fast money out there. Do I need to go work? Do I need to go hustle or do this?' I never reverted to that. I never reverted to the streets. I never made an excuse for my mom's situation."
But he did make a promise. Rice vowed he would make it to the NFL and financially take care of his mother. This time, he wasn't joking. After he signed a four-year, $2.8 million deal with the Ravens, he bought his mother a new apartment near The Hollows. In 2009, he bought her an Acura, then replaced it with a Lexus last year.
"Trust me, I know he has something up his sleeve for next year," Janet said, her voice rising with excitement. "As soon as I get used to driving it, he just takes it away and gets me something better."
The two speak to each other by telephone every morning, usually as Rice is driving to the Ravens' training facility and his mother is driving to the middle school at which she teaches. If he doesn't call her by 8 a.m., she calls him repeatedly until he picks up, even on game days. They talk for about 5 to 10 minutes, catching up on each other's lives.
Then it's time for Rice to pull a prank. He passes the phone to teammates, who hoot and holler into the phone, some shouting: "Mama's boy! Mama's boy!"
Asked to describe their relationship, Janet said she and her son are carbon copies of each other, laughing at the fact that he inherited her height (Janet is 4-11).
"When I see Ray, I see myself," Janet said. "He's a people person. He's friendly and has a lot of laughter. And he's a jokester. Basically, no one can ever come between us. He's more than just my son. He's my friend."
David Picker is a producer for "E:60."