Published by Jerz 8/6/2014
There is something incredibly special about the NFL and nothing embodies it more than when it’s greats are enshrined in the hallowed halls of Canton, Ohio in the Hall of Fame. This is a special weekend for NFL fans everywhere as we are able to pay homage to those recognized not only as greats of their respective eras but as greats of All-Time. This designation immortalizes them and can never be taken away. For those that may have played before our time we’re able to step into a time capsule and relive that greatness for one more weekend.
By coincidence, my Wife and I were married on August 3, 2013. It just so happened to be the same night Cris Carter and Warren Sapp’s class was inducted into Canton. As I watched Sapp in all those Buccaneer highlights I couldn’t help but think about that teams turnaround and how they turned into one of the fiercest defenses of their generation when they went on their Super Bowl run of 2002. Fast forward to this year and another of Sapp’s former Buccaneer teammates, Derrick Brooks, gets his call to the Hall. This made me think about another staple of that tremendous Buc’s defense that I’m hoping gets to dawn the “gold jacket” as well… Simeon Rice.
I’ve had a few opportunities to interview Simeon Rice on our SportzfamRADIO programs and he’s one of the realest interviews you could ever hope to hear. He simply gives it to you like it is and is inconspicuously entertaining in the process. As a former high school classmate of mine, I’ve watched him blossom from a 6’2″ running back with fumbling issues (as a freshman), to a little used tight end in an option offense to an absolute BEAST off the edge when moved to defensive end. He is one of the most athletically gifted people I’ve ever been around and there was no better display of those gifts than what he exhibited on the football field.
I shot him a text this past weekend that simply said “Think about you every HOF weekend Fam. Can’t wait til YOU get that call! #WeAreMC!!!”. Ironically enough he was actually in Canton enjoying the festivities and watching another former Buc teammate receive his call (Derrick Brooks). Also receiving the prestigious honor of induction was Rice’s former Arizona Cardinal teammate Aeneas Williams who Rice called the best he’s ever seen. This was no doubt a special weekend for the former #3 overall pick of the 1996 NFL Draft.
I had a chance to catch up with Simeon, in Chicago (in 2009), along with a few more of our former Mt. Carmel mates and the stories were legendary. Former high school and college teammate Bobby Sanders gave accounts of Rice’s first practices as a University of Illinois freshman where he made upperclassmen look like they were standing still in drills. Rice talked about his early days, as a member of the Cardinals, and his daily practice battles with former 7 time Pro Bowl Tackle Lomas Brown. Rice credits Brown with really shaping his Pro game and noted how he was able to elude Brown with ease early in mini camp with a variety of rush moves and all of a sudden, once the pads came on in training camp, it just stopped.
Rice definitely hit the ground running his rookie year to the tune of 12.5 sacks and NFL AP Defensive rookie of the year honors in 1996, as the 3rd overall pick of the NFL draft out of the University of Illinois. He’d go on to record 10 or more sacks 3 times in his 5 years with the Cardinals including a career high 16.5 in 1999 earning his 1st trip to the Pro Bowl. Impending Free Agency after the 2000 season put Rice in position to write his own ticket at 27. It’s rare that a talent of this level hits the open market at such a young age but Rice would weigh his options closely before ultimately making a decision that would change his NFL course.
Though Rice was just 27 years old, when he hit free agency, many questioned if he was worth BIG dollars coming off a 7.5 sack campaign the season before? Skeptics always questioned whether he was one of those tremendously gifted athletes that just turns “it” on and off when they felt like it (he followed up a stellar rookie year in 96′ with just 5 sacks)? Others just saw him as a “one trick pony” that was great at getting to the quarterback but not as good against the run. Rice not only would silence the critics but ultimately became the missing link that an up and coming Tampa Bay defense was missing.
In his first 5 seasons with Tampa Bay, Rice racked up 67.5 sacks, 2 Pro Bowl appearances, a 1st team All Pro selection and a Super Bowl Championship. He is the 3rd fastest player in NFL History to 100 sacks (was 2nd before Aldon Smith took over that distinction) and before a nagging shoulder injury was enjoying a very solid NFL career. In 2006, at the age of 32, Rice was only able to play in 8 games. He had “cups of coffee” with Denver and Indianapolis, in 2007, but was never really given a shot to show he was fully recovered from the injured shoulder. When I saw him in 2009 he told me that he was ready to go and was in communication with at least one NFL team but nothing transpired. He’s always been a workout warrior and keeps himself in tremendous shape. At 40 years old, today, I believe he could out work some NFL youngsters. As I look back on a career that spanned 12 years, I see a guy that amassed 122 career sacks (15th All-Time as of today), had 10 or more sacks 8 times, 12 or more sacks 6 times, was a big cog in one of the noteworthy defenses of any era and came up huge in the BIG game (2 sack performance in Super Bowl XXXVII). The logjam of prolific pass rushers waiting to enter the Hall of Fame gets tighter by the year but I’m hoping at some point #97 gets to be on stage WITH his peers instead of watching them from the audience…
Caught up with Simeon back in 2011 on The Sports Kritik. Take a listen…