Rice feels days as a Raider are cooked

This is not the way Oakland Raiders wide receiver Jerry Rice anticipated celebrating his 42nd birthday – defending his ability better than opposing cornerbacks have been able to do throughout his 20-year career.

Rice went on Sacramento radio station KHTK Tuesday, stating in the process that he anticipated, and frankly wanted, to be traded before the October 19 NFL trade deadline. He addressed the situation further on Wednesday with a smattering of reporters who cover the Oakland Raiders.

There have been rumors about a possible trade with the Detroit Lions that would reunite Rice with his former San Francisco coach, Steve Mariucci. Raiders' senior personnel executive Michael Lombardi, however, denied that a trade is in the works.

Rice, who owns virtually every receiving record imaginable, has seen his role significantly reduced for the Raiders under first-year head coach Norv Turner. The Raiders released Tim Brown in training camp after 16 seasons, the same fate Rice encountered in San Francisco, because they felt his ability was declining and that the team had younger receivers that were ready to become viable options.

Rice, however, said he was told that he still fit into the Raiders plans. That certainly has not been the case in 2004. Rice has started four games but has not been on the field in key moments of the game. Instead, Jerry Porter, Ronald Curry, Doug Gabriel and Alvis Whitted have been the vital cogs in Oakland's offense.

In fact, Rice has twice gone without a single reception, having his streak of 274 consecutive games with at least one catch snapped in a 13-10 win over Buffalo and again in a 35-14 loss at Indianapolis. It's one thing to go without a catch in the Buffalo game because the contest hung in the balance. Therefore, continuing his streak was not an emphasis. In the Colts game, however, the Raiders were trailing. One would think Rice would get at least one pass thrown to him at some point.

"I don't have to be the go-to guy," Rice said. "I just want to be able to go out and contribute. I'm a firm believer in that if you work hard you should get rewarded. I've been working hard ever since Day One."

Rice joined the Raiders after San Francisco released him for much the same reason Oakland decided to part ways with Brown. In late January, Rice said that 2004 would be his last season. He came back excited to put last season's 4-12 disaster behind him under a new head coach (Turner) with a new philosophy. Rice is now hinting at the desire of wanting to play beyond this season – with emphasis on the word "play."

"I had such high expectations for this year," Rice said. "I felt I was going to have a significant role that I could go out the way I wanted to go out. It's not happening that way. Hopefully, I can come back another season and write my own book."

"I'm still going to support my team. I'm going to do everything possible to help these young guys. If I get opportunities on the field I'm going to be productive. I'm not going to turn my back on these guys. They are very talented and deserve to have the opportunities."

What happens Sunday when the Raiders (2-3) host the Denver Broncos? For that matter, who knows if Rice will still be a Raider? Rice broached the possibility of the deadline passing and him not being traded.

"All I know is that it's a rumor going on in Detroit," Rice said. "When you're not being productive and you're not on the field something is going on. I don't know what's going to happen but I'm pretty much prepared. If I have to go somewhere else then I'm going to do everything possible to help that team. I'm still going to be Jerry."

Denver head coach Mike Shanahan spent three seasons coaching Rice when he was an offensive coordinator with the 49ers from 1992-1994.

"I'm not sure what kind of complaints he has," Shanahan said. "I just know how Jerry takes care of himself. I wouldn't be surprised if he plays two or three more years."

It's pretty clear that the future does not include the Raiders. Rice and Turner have spoken briefly on a couple of occasions but does not feel compelled to think that course of action will do much good.

"We could do that but I think that when you look at five games and you see only so many opportunities, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out," Rice said. "Maybe, it's hard for them also because they didn't think about this situation."

It's also not the scenario Rice envisioned on his 42nd birthday.

Vince D'Adamo can be reached via e-mail at vdad7@yahoo.com

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