DENVER - The Greatest Of All Time wants to finish his career as a backup with the Denver Broncos.
Jerry Rice, the NFL's career leading receiver, signed a one-year deal Wednesday with the Broncos, where he'll compete for a spot as a reserve.
Thus ends the 42-year-old's search for a place to play his 21st season and add to his totals of 1,549 catches for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns - all league records.
"To be a 42-year old and be able to do what I am doing is amazing," Rice said on the NFL Network. "There's going to be some negativity. That's OK. It's about the love of the game."
Earlier in the offseason, his agent, Jim Steiner, sent out a league-wide e-mail notifying teams that the "GOAT" - Greatest Of All Time - was available.
To some, the pitch may have seemed a bit beneath a player of Rice's caliber. To the receiver, though, it made sense.
"What motivates him is, he loves the game, loves being around the guys. He has a passion for playing football, it's what he does and it's who he is," Steiner said. "The more people say he shouldn't do it, that becomes a personal challenge."
Steiner said Rice told him this will be his last season and that the he wants to go out at a place where he can win and feel comfortable. That's why the Broncos make sense. Denver coach Mike Shanahan was San Francisco's offensive coordinator from 1992-94.
"It's going to be great to be a part of this unique group," Rice said. "Shanahan and I go way back."
Added Steiner: "This happens to be the right fit with the right coach. Mike is a coach who will manage him better than anyone else in the league. Mike views him better than anyone else would. It all just works."
Before Rice signed, he met with Shanahan and the two agreed that the receiver would have to compete for his spot - nothing would be handed to him.
Rod Smith, who wears Rice's No. 80, and Ashley Lelie are the expected starters. Darius Watts has a good track on the third position. Rice will compete for the remaining spots with unproven youngsters like Triandos Luke, Nate Jackson and Charlie Adams, among others.
"I told Jerry that I don't know if he's lost a step or two steps, but you're going to come here for one reason and that's to compete with the other guys," Shanahan said last week. "And if you're one of our top five guys at the end of camp, then you're going to be on our football team. If you're not, I said I'd have one of the toughest jobs in the world."
Shanahan was not available for comment Wednesday.
Rice's addition will make Broncos camp an even more interesting place to be this summer. They've already drafted Maurice Clarett and traded for troubled punter Todd Sauerbrun. Now comes the man widely regarded as the best receiver - maybe the best football player - to ever suit up.
"It will be fun to throw the ball to him," quarterback Jake Plummer said. "I'll be in the parenthesis for some records, if he's not breaking any more, but just to set some more and extend them."
"I definitely think you can never have enough leaders," linebacker Al Wilson was quoted as saying on the Broncos Web site. "Especially at the wide receiver position; with the young guys we have. With him and a guy like Rod Smith - I definitely think it would boost their confidence up and take them to the level at which we need them to play."
After being released by the 49ers in 2000, Rice signed with Oakland, where he was key to helping the Raiders make the Super Bowl in 2002.
But he grew upset with the playing time he received with the Raiders last season and was traded to Seattle in October. He finished with 30 catches for 429 yards - the lowest stats of his career except for when he was injured in 1997 - and many thought that would be it.
Rice wasn't through, however. He had a chance to sign with Tampa Bay, but it wasn't the right fit. Shortly after Steiner sent the e-mail, the receiver met with the Broncos.
Rice isn't afraid or ashamed of having to come in and compete for a job despite his resume. "It's not about that," he said. "It gives me an opportunity to watch younger guys and help these guys. I don't think it will hurt my status. My status is intact. I know everything is coming to an end. I just want to have fun."
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