DENVER (June 1, 2005) -- Jerry Rice began his first day as a Denver Bronco doing something unheard of for a player of his stature: he walked around the locker room and introduced himself.
"It caught a lot of the guys off guard when I walk up and say, 'Hey, I'm Jerry Rice,' " he said. "I noticed a lot of these guys might have been 3-year-olds when I came into the league."
"I couldn't believe it was him," said wide receiver Triandos Luke, 19 years younger than the 42-year-old Rice. "I had seen him making catches all these years and there he was."
With that formality out of the way, the best receiver in NFL history went about getting ready for the first day of the team's three-day minicamp. He gazed at his new threads.
"I looked at my uniform and said this is OK," Rice said. "It's not that hard to get used to; it will look good on me."
The jersey didn't carry No. 80, the number he had worn in a career of Super Bowls and stops in San Francisco, Oakland Raider and Seattle. It was a white No. 19 on blue and orange.
Rice said he didn't feel right demanding to take No. 80 away from Rod Smith and settled on 19 after a conversation with his 9-year-old daughter, Jada.
"I felt comfortable with it," Rice said. "Plus with so many guys on the roster, they didn't have that many jerseys left."
Once onto the field, Rice's only problem seemed to be with mile-high altitude.
"I got a little winded, but there were several other guys that were winded, too," Rice said. "That was hope for me."
He said the altitude didn't restrict him from running deep pass patterns or getting to know his teammates.
"I was stunned to see him," veteran safety John Lynch said. "I thought he would come in and sign and leave."
Rice arrived in Denver with no assurances from coach Mike Shanahan he will make the team, but confident he can make a contribution.
"I am still running and a lot of the young guys are amazed at that," he said. "I want to play football, plus I wouldn't be out here if I couldn't play, if I couldn't bring something to the table."
Rice said he's not worried about his age.
"I feel like it's worth it as long as I can still push myself to the level where in the fourth quarter and it's the last play of the game and I can dig down deep and make that play," he said.
The Associated Press News Service
Copyright 2005, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved