In 1997 Rice was falling into obscurity with the Niners. The offense revolved around Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes, and Rice was mired in his worst season as a pro. He didn't miss a game, but amassed his lowest output with 805 yards and averaged only 10.7 yards per catch. His game seemed to have lost a step.
Then he signed with the Oakland Raiders. Al Davis knew better than to underestimate the old veteran's knack for finding the open hole and was rewarded when Rice stunned the NFL with a 9-touchdown, 1137-yard season. He followed 2001 up with a 2002 campaign that saw him hit 1211 yards and 7 touchdowns.
But this year, as with the rest of the Raiders, age has caught up with Rice. He can't go deep and team's are jamming him at the line, taking away the pitch-catch-run that he thrived on the past two seasons.
The end of an era is coming to a swift close. Rice will very soon be gone and the greatest receiver the NFL has ever seen will no longer terrorize cornerbacks. So, Steeler fans, watch the game on Sunday and root for the home team, but whenever Rice catches a pass give him a nice ovation. We may never see a wide receiver like him ever again, one that was super fast, ran ultra-precise routes, had incredible hands, could stop on a dime and had an explosive first step. Ike Taylor said he would shake Rice's hands if they line up against one another. Ike should ask for an autograph. I would.
Pittsburgh Ranked 22nd (Passing 12th, Rushing 31st) – There was a time when Jerome Bettis gaining 100 yards was considered an average day. Now we're happy when he hits 60 +. Hines Ward continues to carry the offense on his back, but his career has been shortened by about 2 seasons due to the punishment he's received this season.
Oakland Ranked 18th (Passing 15th, Rushing 15th) – This is like an old-timer's team on offense. Jerry Rice and Tim Brown can still catch, but they don't strike fear any longer. Jerry Porter however is the sole reason why the Raiders will try to spread the field. Expect the Raiders to exploit Pittsburgh's run defense with Charlie Garner and Tyrone Wheatley.
Advantage: The Raider offense has the advantage.
Pittsburgh Ranked 12th (Passing 13th, Rushing 9th) – The Steelers run defense will be tested again by the forces of Tyrone Wheatley and Charlie Garner. The pass defense shouldn't get stretched too often, but it's hard to feel comfortable with Dewayne Washington starting, not that Chad Scott would make me feel more at ease.
Oakland Ranked 28th (Passing 14th, Rushing 32nd) – The Raiders, although old and under-talented, still gave Denver fits last week. It's really comes down to if the Raiders' woeful rushing defense can stop the Steelers' woeful rushing offense. Ugly.
Advantage: Pittsburgh's defense would seem to have the advantage, but at this point, who knows which defense will show up.
Tommy Maddox – Touchdown Tommy can't find his namesake. That being said, he may have another hard day finding the end zone against Charles Woodsen and Philip Buchannon.
Rick Mirer – Mirer is like Maddox, except less talented.
Advantage: Maddox has the advantage.
OUTLOOK: The Dumbest Team in America hands the dunce cap to Cowher and Co. Oakland by 6.