Less than one minute before the end of the first half of Monday’s home opener for the 49ers at Candlestick Park, Jerry Rice snuck out to the sidelines to a standing ovation.
The three-time Super Bowl champion wide receiver had one more chance to be hailed as the greatest of all time by the fans who adored him during his Hall of Fame playing career.
He was honored by the team he played 16 of his 20 years for with his No. 80 jersey being retired. Rice played for the Niners from 1985 through 2000, then finished with the Raiders and Seattle Seahawks before retiring in 2005.
Standing at midfield during a halftime ceremony alongside his former teammates, coaches and front-office personnel — Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, Ronnie Lott, Steve Young, Steve Mariucci, Eddie DeBartolo, George Seifert (the late Bill Walsh was represented by son Craig) — Rice, in his 49ers Hall of Fame red blazer, said he was grateful to his teammates, his family and for the opportunity to play.
“This means the world to me,” said Rice, whose induction into the team Hall of Fame was also celebrated Monday. “Thank you for giving me opportunity to come to San Francisco and play for the greatest fans in the world.”
A large 80 was shaded white into the empty orange seats at Candlestick Park hours before kickoff.
The NFL’s all-time leader in touchdowns (208), receptions (1,549) and receiving yards (22,895) was given his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring during a ceremony before the 49ers took on the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
During the halftime ceremony, military personnel held five photos of Rice during his days as a 49er and fans behind the stage helped create a replica No. 80 jersey.
Montana, like Rice a Pro Football Hall of Famer, said in a videotaped statement that Rice deserved the honor.
A receiving legend
20 Seasons Jerry Rice played in the NFL
16 Seasons Rice played with the 49ers
13 Seasons Rice was named to the Pro Bowl
208 Career touchdowns*
197 Career receiving touchdowns*
1,549 Career receptions*
22,895 Career receiving yards*
* NFL record