Usually, when you think of legendary Minnesota Vikings wide receivers, some all-timers spring to mind. Randy Moss, Chris Carter, or older players like Ahmad Rashad. Outside of a handful of players, though, the group thins out fast. In terms of yards, Justin Jefferson is 11th already in only his third year of professional football. The Vikings franchise, mind you, is over 70 years old. There isn’t much separation between the greatest ever and roaming vagabonds who hung around for a year or two. Sydney Rice was neither, a flash in the pan until injuries ruined what could’ve been. Why does no one talk about this possibly-generational talent that came and went without a sound?
Rice was heavily recruited out of high school for both football and basketball, but none of the offers outweighed staying close to home, as he committed to the University of South Carolina. He went for over 1,000 yards in both of his seasons as a Gamecock(hahaha) and would end up breaking the school’s career touchdowns mark–which was previously set by Sterling Sharpe–with 23 touchdowns. Mix those numbers with a really strong showing at the NFL Combine, like a near- 40” vertical leap, and you’ve got a player who unsurprisingly was taken early on in the 2007 NFL Draft.
The Minnesota Vikings took Rice in the second round, and signed a four-year deal without any issue. His rookie year was mostly un-noteworthy, finishing with just a shade under 400 yards and four touchdowns. Well, mostly un-noteworthy, outside of throwing a 79-yard pass, a franchise record for a non-quarterback. Before his second season, RIce was named a starter along with new acquisition Bernard Berrian. A great opportunity for the young receiver was taken from him, as he suffered a knee sprain in the first game of the year that would keep him out until Week 9. By the time he came back, most of his playing time was in the red zone and his starting spot had been yoinked by Bobby Wade. Rice would finish the season with only 141 yards and four touchdowns, with prospects for his career’s success growing bleaker and bleaker.
Forging Fire with Favre
In 2009, would end up winning his starting job back along with fresh face Brett Favre. When I say Rice exploded, I mean it. In two back to back weeks, he tallied 136 yards and 176 yards respectively. In Week 10, he made a new personal single-game high with 201 yards against the Detroit Lions. In response to this, Rice was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. His regular season total would end up being 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns, a very strong season for someone previously unknown for the most part. After the season, he was named to his first and only Pro Bowl. During Minnesota’s first game of their playoff run, Rice pulled in 141 yards and three touchdowns. This would end up being his last excellent game in a Vikings uniform.
Ok, Then What?
In the 2009 postseason’s notorious NFC Championship game between the Vikings and the New Orleans Saints, Rice suffered a hip injury. Surgery was supposed to be performed during the offseason to heal the injury, but he didn’t go through with it due to worries about how it would affect his performance. In the third week of training camp the following year, however, Rice would indeed end up going in for said surgery. This operation kept him out until November, which forced Minnesota to sign players to fill the void. He did come back in time to play a larger role in two late-season victories, but suffered a concussion in the latter of the two. This left him sidelined for the season finale, and then off the team after Minnesota declined to resign him. He wasn’t out of the league, though, because the Seattle Seahawks were right there with a five-year, $41 million contract. The only season in Seattle that was any good for Rice, 2012, was still only a 748 yard, seven touchdown campaign. After the following season, Sydney Rice would retire due to the repeated concussions he suffered during his career.
How I Know (Rice)Ball
Back when I was in elementary school–and most of middle school for that matter– the only gaming console I had was the Nintendo Wii. Legendary console, I don’t care, yell at me all you want, I’m just gonna tell you to cope. One of the games I had for it was Madden 11. I played this game a while after the year it came out, though. At this point in my life, I didn’t really know much about football, nor did I have the mental ability to stay entertained for a full 3 hours. This game changed that and, because I’m a total homer, I would always use the Vikings in franchise mode. I went 16-0 and marched to the Super Bowl on one of these little experiments and started learning some legends at the time. Of course I knew about Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen, and I had seen a bit and learned more about players like Percy Harvin, Steve Hutchinson, and Antoine Winfield. There were even players that were unknown to me/most NFL fans who made an impact when I played, like tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. The player that stood out the most to me, though, was our friend Sydney Rice. It completely dumbfounded me how a player with such a high overall (90) could be such a rare name to hear in NFL circles. Part of that wonder still existed when I decided to write this article. I hope this piece can bring his magical 2009 season back into the spotlight, to be mentioned as a reason for that historic run along with the likes of Favre and Peterson. He deserves it, and I hope I’ve illustrated that well.