HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (Aug. 4, 2007) -- Eric Mangini gathered his team into a room on the Hofstra campus and started running down the career accomplishments of his mystery guest.
Laveranues Coles figured out who it was immediately.
"It doesn't take much when you start talking about Mississippi Valley State and 20-something touchdowns in a season, and Bill Walsh's name came up," the New York Jets wide receiver said Saturday. "So, I was like, 'Oh, it's Jerry Rice.' "
Arguably the NFL's greatest receiver, Rice showed up to speak with the Jets on the team's day off from practice Friday.
"It's a big deal," receiver Justin McCareins said. "It's a privilege to listen to not only a guy who played 20 years in the league, but he's Jerry Rice. He holds all the records you could imagine. He's the ultimate professional."
Since becoming coach last season, Mangini has made a habit of bringing in guest motivational speakers, such as boxing trainer Teddy Atlas, college basketball coach Jim Calhoun and Olympian Dan O'Brien. It's to the point where the team isn't sure who might show up on any given day.
"I just believe in the value of letting players hear how successful people became successful, or how their teams became successful," Mangini said. "The ingredients are really the same, regardless of whether it's football, baseball, basketball, hockey or whether you're at Johnson & Johnson. I mean, it's all the same core characteristics."
The Jets had a team cookout Aug. 3, followed by Rice speaking to the team and the players -- along with Rice -- sitting through a screening of the movie, 300. Then, the players got a chance to meet the 13-time Pro Bowl receiver and one-time Dancing With the Stars contestant.
"For me, early on, that's who I watched," receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "That's who I learned how to play wide receiver from. That's who I learned how to stay inbounds and tap my feet on the sideline and catch balls over the shoulder from. That's who I emulated."
Coles was thrilled when Rice asked to meet him specifically.
"I just shook hands and said, 'I'm not going to talk your head off. Can I just have your autograph?' Coles said. "I was just excited to shake his hand. If you ever shake his hand, his hands probably came all the way up my arm. That's how big his hands are."
Among the things Rice spoke to the players about was his practice methods and offseason training habits: his infamous six-day-a-week regimen of running 5 miles up a hill, combined with vertical wind sprints.
"One thing I can tell any kid is that you can try to emulate some of the things he's done, but I don't think there will ever be another Jerry Rice," said Coles, who said his intense workout program is nowhere near what Rice's was. "You can try to take small parts of his game and try to apply some of them to your game, but Jerry Rice himself, you can never try to put yourself in that category, compare to him or even come close."
Rice, still in remarkable shape at 44, was asked by Mangini to stick around for practice.
"I thought it would be good to have him come run some routes and work with the receivers, that type of thing, work against the defensive backs," Mangini said. "He just had some other stuff going on, so he couldn't come out."
Maybe that's a good thing anyway.
"Even at his age, I bet he could still school us," McCareins said. "It was a pleasure to hear him, but I would have loved to watch him live."
Rice won three Super Bowls as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, and also played for Oakland and Seattle. After a failed attempt to continue his career with Denver in 2005, Rice signed a one-day contract the following year with San Francisco so he could retire a member of the 49ers. Among the NFL records he set included most receptions (1,549), yards receiving (22,895), touchdown receptions (197) and total touchdowns (207).
"The guy had over 13 miles of receiving yards," Mangini said. "It's incredible."
While the Jets receivers can strive to be like Rice on the football field, they'll let Rice do the dancing on TV.
"No, that's something you won't see me do," Cotchery said with a laugh. "I can dance, but I won't step into that field."
The Associated Press News Service
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