DENVER The greatest receiver of all time realized he would be no better than the fourth receiver for the Denver Broncos. It was no way for Jerry Rice to end his career, so he called it quits after 20 sensational seasons.
''I never thought I'd ever see this day,'' Rice said Monday during an emotional news conference at Broncos team headquarters.
And the NFL may never see anyone like Rice again.
The 42-year-old receiver, a first-round draft pick out of tiny Mississippi Valley State in 1985, leaves the field with 38 NFL records, including the most career receptions (1,549), yards receiving (22,895) and touchdowns receiving (197).
But as much as the numbers, it was the way he did things that made the biggest impression the right way. He was a slave to details, a master of route-running precision, a good guy off the field and a workout junkie both in season and out.
Revered by fans and his peers, Rice told his short-time teammates in Denver that he was retiring during a short meeting held after his public announcement. The Broncos gave him a standing ovation.
''Not many people that own all the records spend that type of commitment and give that type of commitment in the offseason,'' Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. ''That's why, in my opinion, he's the greatest player to ever play the game.''
Next, it's time for that debate, and nobody can accuse Shanahan of overstating it.
Rice led the 49ers to three Super Bowl titles and helped make Joe Montana and Steve Young look great. He mastered the West Coast offense and made a career of turning short catches into long gains. His work ethic and attention to the little things gave an entire generation of receivers someone to look up to.
How detail oriented was he?
Shanahan said Rice insisted the right-handed assistant who threw practice passes to the receivers be replaced with a lefty when the 49ers switched from the right-handed Montana to the left-handed Young.
''... I'd see him upstairs. One time, I said, 'Jerry, what are you doing?''' recalled Shanahan, who spent three years coaching Rice as San Francisco's offensive coordinator. ''He said, 'I was looking at film. I'm looking at the top 10 receivers in the AFC and the top 10 receivers in the NFC. I don't want any of these young guys ever to catch me.'''
Rookie Charlie Frye has won the backup quarterback job for Cleveland ahead of journeyman Doug Johnson.
''Charlie has stepped in, and he has performed and done a nice job,'' coach Romeo Crennel said. ''At this point, he's ahead of Doug. I feel like he's done enough to warrant the No. 2 spot.''
The Browns hope the third-round pick from Akron can be their future starter. Veteran Trent Dilfer will start the season at No. 1.
After spending his entire 10-year career with New England, Ty Law will start at cornerback for the Jets in Kansas City on Sunday.
Coach Herman Edwards announced the decision Monday. He also said rookie Kerry Rhodes, a fourth-round draft pick, will join Law in the secondary.
''It's going to be baptism by fire, huh?'' Rhodes said. ''I just have to make the best of it.
Law, who injured his foot and missed the second half of last season with the Patriots, was signed by the Jets last month after being pursued by a number of teams.
For now, rookie Dan Orlovsky is the Lions' backup quarterback.
Orlovsky, a fifth-round draft choice from Connecticut, had been preparing to be the third-stringer until Jeff Garcia broke his leg in the final preseason game. He played in all four preseason games, completing 29 of 54 passes for 356 yards. He threw one touchdown pass and was intercepted twice.
Coach Steve Mariucci said any decisions on signing a more experienced QB would depend on additional examinations on Garcia. For now, wide receiver Kevin Johnson, who began his career at Syracuse as a quarterback, will be the emergency QB.
''He's an up-and-coming guy, and if there is a surprise in our draft class, it is Dan,'' Mariucci said. ''The game isn't too fast for him, and we're not writing him off as the backup right now.''
Cornerback Nate Clements did not practice Monday because of a shoulder injury and his status is uncertain for the opener Sunday against Houston.
Clements was hurt when he and Troy Vincent tackled Lions receiver Roy Williams at the Bills 1 in the second quarter of Buffalo's final preseason game, a 21-7 loss to Detroit on Friday. Clements landed on his shoulder as he tumbled out of bounds.
Cornerback and kickoff returner Jerry Azumah is expected to play in the opener at Washington after going through his first full practice Monday since arthroscopic surgery on his right hip last month.
''We're definitely comfortable with putting him out there,'' coach Lovie Smith said. ''We don't know exactly how much. We won't rush him back. We don't know yet whether he'll return kickoffs and how much he'll play in nickel coverage. But we feel like he'll play.''
Azumah, a Pro Bowl kick returner in 2003, last year missed the preseason and the first four games of the regular season after undergoing neck surgery. But he tied his career-high with four interceptions and averaged 22 yards per kickoff return in 12 games. In 2003, he had four interceptions and averaged 29.0 yards per kickoff return, including 89- and 88-yard touchdowns.
Tackle Jon Jansen, coming back strongly from tearing his Achilles' tendon more than a year ago, broke the base of his thumb in practice Monday. Coach Joe Gibbs said Jansen will play while wearing a splint and cast in practice and during games.
Tight end Jeff Robinson began his second stint with St. Louis, two days after being released by the Cowboys. The Rams released rookie tight end Jerome Collins, a fifth-round pick, to make room on the roster.
Robinson was a tight end, long snapper and special teams captain with the Rams for five seasons beginning in 1997 before signing a free-agent deal with Dallas. He played on two Super Bowl teams in St. Louis. The Rams already have a long snapper, Chris Massey, so Robinson probably won't be used in that capacity.
Wide receiver Brandon Stokley has been cleared to play in the opener at Baltimore after missing the preseason with a shoulder injury. Stokley, who dislocated his left shoulder a few days before the team's game in Tokyo, returned to practice Monday.
''He's got a brace that he's comfortable playing in. He's in condition, he's worked at it. It's the type of thing that if he gets his arm in a certain position, that's when it's more likely to be hurt,'' coach Tony Dungy said.
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