Fast Break: Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice (l) and Darren Woodson are hosts of ESPN's Audibles.

Over the course of his 20-year NFL career, Jerry Rice established himself as the best wide receiver — and arguably the greatest player — in pro football history. This fall, the Hall of Famer and three-time Super Bowl champion is enjoying his rookie season as an ESPN NFL analyst.

Rice, who will appear on Audibles tonight at 7 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN, spoke to Front Row about the challenges of his new job, reuniting with former San Francisco 49ers teammate and fellow analyst Steve Young, and other topics.

FR: What have you enjoyed most about this new analyst role and is there anything that’s surprised you?

Rice: What I have enjoyed the most is [enhancing] my knowledge about the game. Researching these guys and watching them. It’s a new generation now. The coaches, the new schemes, that’s something I’m excited about. I played in an era where I knew all the guys I played with. Now, it’s totally different. It’s a whole new generation. I ‘m trying to learn those guys and trying to give them their just due in reference to what they’ve accomplished.

What surprises me? The attention to detail. And the most important thing is to voice your opinion. … I hold guys accountable. If you go out there and you put that uniform on, and you’re being paid to do a job, you should always give 100 percent. I’m very critical when I don’t see guys giving 100 percent.

Rice, as a 49er, celebrating after scoring his 125th career touchdown in 1994.

FR: What made you consider broadcasting?

Rice: I was looking for that team again. With ESPN, I have that team. Also, getting back together with Steve Young … I felt like it was time to get back out there and let people know the way I feel about football. To be able to pass some of that knowledge on to the fans. It’s a learning process for me. I’m getting a feel for it and I’m having a great time.

FR: Would you want to call games in the booth?

Rice: I think, eventually, I would. I’ve got to polish a lot of stuff. If you’re going to broadcast, either you’re going to be average or you want to be one of the best. I want to be one of the best. I’ve got to work at it and just get better, be more comfortable. What I try to do is be myself on television. I don’t try to overdo it. What you see is what you get. I try to do my research. I work hard on all that stuff. And now I have to be a little better with my presentation and that interaction with the camera and with the fans.

FR: What advice did Steve Young give you about your new career?

Rice: He told me that it was going to be tough. It was so funny, because [ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman] told me that when Steve came in, he was not as polished. I think everybody goes through that transition, then you start getting a bit more comfortable, then you know how to do your research and you don’t waste as much time.

It’s been crazy for me. When I come out to Bristol, I’m there for three days. You’re on so many shows. You’ve got to be ready. You can’t say, ‘Hey, I don’t know.’ That’s not going to work! You’ve got to grind and you have to work hard. Then you’ve got to make that presentation.

FR: Is the attention to detail the most difficult thing about being an analyst?

Rice: I compare football to so many things in life. It’s the same way: you have to pay attention to detail. If you do that, it’s going to pay off for you. I watch how the pros do it. I watch how they remain calm and collected in front of the camera and how they’re able to deliver. I know it takes years of work, but they’ve got it down to a science. That’s really where I want to get.

[Former 49ers head coach] Bill Walsh, he was one of those guys who always said if you don’t do your homework, you don’t have a chance. If you put the time in, at least you’ve got a shot on that given Sunday because you put the time in. It’s the same way with broadcasting.

FR: What’s your day or week like in preparation for Audibles?

Rice: I try to get up to speed on the day’s topics. That’s the first thing I’ll do. Then I’ll go through each team. I’ll break them down, read through it and try to hold on to some of that knowledge. When you’re on Audibles, you’ve gone through all of the teams. If they should bring up a topic, you don’t freak out because you’ve done your research. It’s like the fourth quarter. You know what they want. Now, you’ve got to present it the right way. The research has already been done. On Audibles, fans don’t want to know just about stats. They want you to be able to talk about that team and what they should be doing. It’s the same thing on NFL Live or anything I’m doing in Bristol. Fans want to hear about different players and what they should be doing.

FR: Who’s your favorite current NFL receiver to watch and why?

Rice: People are comparing me and MegaTron [Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson]. I get so much stuff on Twitter @JerryRice [saying] MegaTron is better than Jerry Rice. You know what? I’m not even playing football right now! Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson — I know he’s hurt right now, Steve Smith from the Carolina Panthers. I have to put Wes Welker into that mix, too. This little guy, he finds a way to get open, he’s tough and he has a big heart. But I would say MegaTron [is my favorite].

He’s still raw right now and you can tell he’s relying a lot on his ability. If he really learns how to start running routes and getting out of his cuts, he’s going to make things a little bit easier for [Lions quarterback] Matt Stafford. Calvin Johnson can jump out of the world, he’s got a big old body, he’s a freak of nature. But if he could really start running routes, man, he’s going to be hard to deal with.

FR: Are you surprised at the 49ers’ turnaround and are they Super Bowl contenders?

Rice: Anything is possible, especially in the playoffs. This team has an identity now. The players decided to start playing. I was asked this morning in the gym, ‘do you think it was because of [49ers head coach] Jim Harbaugh? [Former 49ers head coach] Mike Singletary couldn’t get it done?’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t think it was Mike Singletary. It was just that the players decided they wanted to start playing.’ Jim Harbaugh is doing a fantastic job with the team. They want to pound the football and run it and take some pressure off [quarterback] Alex Smith. He’s coming along and getting better and better game by game.

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