The Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony is all about the stories, and former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo spilled a few family secrets — including one that Jerry Rice likely wishes he hadn’t.
DeBartolo called Rice “our hero, on and off the dance floor” and mentioned the incredible number of receiving records that Rice — often nicknamed “the GOAT” (greatest of all time) — holds.
But then DeBartolo hit Rice below the belt a bit. It was all in good fun, of course. But did Rice think so? You can count on maybe one or two hands the number of guys who could get into Rice’s head on the field, but it appears his former owner struck a little close to the mark with a few funny lines.
DeBartolo spoke about how Rice struggled in practice as a rookie, but that’s well-known. What hurt Rice most was when DeBartolo mentioned the “really high haircut” Rice showed up to training camp with, which made Rice lean forward, smile with embarrassment and put his head into his hand.
“The guys called him ‘Fifi,'” DeBartolo said, which caused Rice to get out of his chair on stage as a fellow Hall of Famer and give DeBartolo a look like … “Really, man?!”
The crowd ate it up. And there was more.
“His first game, he was wide open and he dropped the ball,” DeBartolo said, which also caused Rice to shake his head and wave his hand. “I still teased him about it today.”
But DeBartolo wasn’t done with Rice.
“Can I let you in on a secret on why Rice was so pretty all the time? Because the man hated to be wet,” DeBartolo said. “He’d go into the locker room and change his uniform two or three times a game, and that’s true.”
Once more, Rice had to object to his former owner’s comments by standing up. Rice took it all in stride, but this was a player who made a career living off other people very mild criticisms of him — his lack of size or speed or whatever nitpicky things fans or media had to complain about.
So it’s possible that Rice really was a little miffed. But the way the former 49ers players speak so lovingly of their former owner, it’s very likely that they’ll hug it out somewhere after DeBartolo’s funny speech.
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