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Bucs' Rice doesn't feel he gets respect he deserves

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ The passion in Simeon Rice's voice rose with every word, though it never reached the level of anger.

That's because the NFL's most prolific pass rusher over his past 50 regular-season games insists it no longer bothers him that he doesn't receive the recognition he thinks he deserves for being one of the best to ever play his position.

The Tampa Bay star looks at other defensive ends built in the same mold as the tall, athletic and speedy Rice and sees players he believes are far more celebrated, even though they are essentially following in his footsteps.

No offense to Jevon Kearse and Jason Taylor, but Rice's said he set the standard for today's pass rushers and has the numbers to prove it.

``There were other great pass rushers before me and I'll always pay homage to them. But the basketball-type. The big man who runs 4.4 or 4.3? I was the first one out of the gate,'' Rice said.

The 30-year-old Rice became the 22nd player in league history to reach 100 sacks last Sunday, reaching the milestone in just his 139th game. He joined Michael Strahan, who has 118 in 175 games, as the only active players in that exclusive club.

Since the 11th game of 2001, Rice has an NFL-high 46 1-2 sacks, including eight this year to stay on course for his seventh season with at least 10. His average of 11.6 per season is the highest among active players, with Strahan (10.3) the only other player in double-digits.

``But they've yet to say, this cat is the best who's ever done it. And I know I am,'' Rice said.

The third pick in the 1996 draft, Rice had 51{ sacks in five seasons for the Arizona Cardinals before signing with Tampa Bay as a free agent in 2001 with a reputation as being an outstanding pass rusher who was weak against the run.

Playing on the same line with perennial Pro Bowl tackle Warren Sapp, Rice was second in the league with 15{ sacks in 2002, helping the Bucs win the Super Bowl. He was second again in 2003 with 15, earning his third trip to the Pro Bowl.

Still, the ninth-year pro said when people start talking about the game's top pass rushers, he's routinely left out of the discussion.

He believes one of the reasons is he's a free spirit who rubs some people the wrong way because he's speaks his mind.

Others, he said, are hesitant to give him his due because they mistakenly feel he doesn't work hard.

``To people who see from afar, the only thing that shows up on Sunday is the talent level. In their minds, I don't have to do all the things necessary to play at the level I do. They don't see me staying after practice for hours,'' Rice said.

``I started understanding early on that being heralded is more glitter than gold. ... This league creates heroes and villains, and it's where you fall. I was vilified because I said Arizona was the armpit of the NFL, which it was, from an organization standpoint. No players really wanted to go there and play, and no coaches really wanted to go there and coach.''

No longer playing next to Sapp, who signed with Oakland, Rice got off a slow start this season.

Facing persistent double teams for the first time since his days in Arizona, he had one sack in the first five games.

But instead of making excuses, the 6-foot-5, 268-pound Rice vowed the sacks would come. He's had seven in the past seven games, including two against Michael Vick on Sunday in a 27-0 rout of Atlanta.

Noting Rice possesses rare speed and quickness for a man his size, Vick called the defensive end a ``freak of nature.''

Coach Jon Gruden can't understand why Rice is not a household name.

``I don't know if it's because he's in Tampa or what. He's a great, great player with a great work ethic. To get 100 sacks in nine years is phenomenal,'' Gruden said.

Rice has sacked 38 quarterbacks, and surprisingly didn't take any added satisfaction in getting No. 100 against the most elusive scrambler in the league.

When he dropped Vick for a 4-yard loss early in the second quarter, he didn't celebrate. He was stunned when the officials stopped the game and gave him the ball.

``I've always done beyond the glory, but never got the real glory for it. But I've accepted that,'' Rice said.

``I feel a guy like Reggie White should be even more upset than me. They don't celebrate him enough. ... And, until they celebrate a cat like that, they're sure not going to celebrate a cat like me.''

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