Life After Football for Star 49ers
For Jerry Rice and Rickey Henderson, the decision has been to keep going. Rice will go to training camp with the Denver Broncos, though thereís no guarantee that he will make the team. Henderson is playing in an independent league, hoping that, at 46, he will get still another chance to play in the major leagues.
Why do athletes hang on this way? In part, itís because they know theyíll miss the life. Especially in the team sports, thereís a camaraderie among teammates that canít be duplicated in the outside world. Rice seemed somewhat aloof when he played with the 49ers, a leader by example but not by speech, but he clearly enjoys that atmosphere. When he signed with the Broncos, he went around the dressing room during mini-camp introducing himself.
Yet, many of his teammates in the glory years with the 49ers have adjusted quite well to life outside football.
Nobody enjoyed the camaraderie more than Joe Montana, for instance. Montana was always the leader in the practical joke department, as well as the leader on the field. Montana made an attempt to stay close to the game by working as part of a game day studio program in his first year of retirement, but he gave up on that after a year because it took him away from his family on weekends. Now, he and his wife Jennifer live in the wine country (two of their four offspring are still at home) and he has a number of projects, including producing a small amount of wine and acting as a national spokesman for a program to fight high blood pressure and heart attacks. (I wrote about this in The Chrornicle in January.)
Harris Barton, Ronnie Lott and Montana have formed a venture capital firm, HRJ, which reportedly is very successful, with Barton and Lott doing most of the work. Brent Jones is working for an investment company, Northgate Capital. Roger Craig is working for a software company, Tibco, which supplies programs to, among others, major league baseball. (I wrote more extensively on Craig in a website column, March 27, which is in ďArchiveĒ.)
Steve Young and Randy Cross have stayed close to the game, Young working on a studio show, Cross working on NFL telecasts.
So, there is life after football. I donít see Rice getting involved in broadcasting or investment companies, but I do think he could do something with his famous workout programs, setting up schools, perhaps, for athletes. Nobody knows conditioning better than Jerry Rice.
ITíS DIFFERENT for athletes in individual sports because thereís no team atmosphere, so they have to decide whether itís worth it to keep playing on a diminished level.
It wasnít worth it to Steffi Graf, whoís married to Andre Agassi and has two small children. She and Andre play regularly on their own court, but she has resisted his attempts to get her to play mixed doubles at Wimbledon with him.
Now, itís Agassi who has come to the crossroads. Heís defied the odds for years with a conditioning program that has fought off the years Ė much as Rice has done. But the injuries are becoming more frequent, preventing Agassi from playing at his top form. He wonít be satisfied if heís not convinced he can be in contention to win the major tournaments, and this will probably be his last year.
Jack Nicklaus, playing on a course he designed, missed the tournament cut after shooting 75 and 77, which embarrassed him. Nicklaus had already decided he wonít play again in the Masters, because he no longer has the strength to hit the long drives he needs to compete.
In Nicklausís case, he canít accept playing at a much lower level than in his prime Ė and with golf, thereís a measurable difference in the number of strokes
Many older golfers, though, have gravitated to the Seniors tour (now called the ďChampionsĒ tour) and are very happy there. The difference in their games isnít quite so obvious on that tour because they play from the womenís tees. Nicklaus has played on that tour, too, but he knows that heís not the golfer he was, even if the seniors tour scores arenít much different. That doesnít seem to bother Arnold Palmer, though, when heís played that tour.
The seniors tour in golf has been very successful, especially when Palmer plays, because fans love to see their heroes, whose swings remain much the same as in their prime.
An attempt at similar tours in tennis eventually failed. Golfers are competing against the course. Tennis players are competing against each other, and the difference between their play in their prime and their play in later years is too obvious.
THOUGH IíVE written in the past that star athletes tarnish their reputations when they play beyond their prime, thatís not true.
Those of us watching Willie Mays cringed when he misjudged a fly ball in the 1973 World Series, but when we think of Mays now, we remember his great catches, his dramatic hits, his unbelievable baseruning.
Similarly, 49er fans remember Montana winning four Super Bowls, not his lesser efforts at the end with the Kansas City Chiefs. They remember Rice at his best, such as the 1989 Super Bowl when he was the Most Valuable Player.
What happens now is important to Rice, not to his reputation. If heís cut by the Broncos, as I believe he will be, he will be honored by the 49ers at a game this fall and we can all remember his great feats. And, hopefully, Jerry can then learn that there is life after football.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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