Howard Cosell was a rare individual. He was a sports commentator that was neither a former athlete nor a trained radio announcer – something that has changed markedly with the ever-evolving world of media (social and otherwise). He coined the phrase "jockacracy" when it came to describing the role of former players in the current era being asked to comment on the next generation of players.
With the expansion of the NFL as part of the public consciousness – more people would likely recognize Peyton Manning than Mitt Romney – the need for coverage of the sport has increased exponentially in the last decade. Players at the end of their careers have started angling for jobs in the media. Guys like Fran Tarkenton, Alex Karras, Don Meredith and O.J. Simpson made a huge career transition seamlessly. Many others have struggled to do so. Yet, unless they become coaches or general managers or front office faceplates, the option of that keeps them in the public consciousness is a heavy lure for those with an NFL ego. Nobody has more of a right to have an ego than Jerry Rice.
At every other position, an argument can be made as to who is the best player at that position. Quarterback? Don't get me started. Offensive tackle? There's a handful. Running back? They get divided out into their field of specialty – I have no problem with Walter Payton, Earl Campbell or Barry Sanders. They were electric for their own reasons and comparisons don't apply. But if anyone asks who is the best wide receiver in NFL history, the answer is almost unanimous – Jerry Rice.
Rice is like Brett Favre and hundreds of other players before him that tried to squeeze every year he could out of an NFL career – becoming a gun for hire to a team in need long after his San Francisco glory days were over. He made the next logical step for aging NFL players – he went on "Dancing With the Stars" and showed he could cha-cha with the best of them.
Now Rice has taken his talents to South Bristol, where he is one of the newest talking heads on ESPN's Disney-inspired scripted "reality TV."
On Monday, Rice was asked about Adrian Peterson on the "NFL Live" ESPN show and said Peterson may be pushing himself to come back too soon from his torn knee injury, citing his own career-threatening knee injury in which he came back too early.
"I feel that I rushed myself back to the football field and I think that with Adrian Peterson, he's doing the same thing," Rice said. "Because we are accustomed to being out there with the guys – sweating with the guys, fighting on the football field – and if you're not able to do that, you just don't feel connected. That's the reason why I rushed back. I hope he doesn't do the same thing."
The flaws to that argument may be too obvious to mention. Rare is the persuasive argument based on the "do as I say, not as I did" principle. The other major flaw to Rice's contention (and comparison) was that his injury occurred in 1997, when Rice was close to turning 35 and was in his 13th NFL season. He also tried to return after four months, not seven. He also had surgery at a time when players came out of surgery looking as if they had been cut with a chainsaw.
Peterson took the high road Tuesday in response to Rice's comments, saying that Rice was a great player, but that the situations are different.
Peterson knew he would have his doubters, but may not have anticipated that it would come from someone who successfully made headlines speculating about another player's motivation. Each player heals differently. Each player attacks his rehabilitation differently. Each player recovers differently.
All Rice proved by rushing back from his injury was that it was the wrong move for a 35-year-old. If anyone would be culpable, it should be the medical staff that told him it was O.K. to return. The Vikings have held the reins back on Peterson to prevent just what Rice said he feared would happen. If anyone can beat the type of injury he sustained, it's Peterson.
Whether it's the job of analysts to take a stance that criticizes a player for taking an aggressive approach to rehabilitation or not, Peterson should get a pass on his willingness to come back. Let hindsight be his judge, not a former player looking to make a point that he didn't believe himself when he was a player.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Adrian Peterson's recovery took another step forward Tuesday with his return to a full-pads practice…