DE Simeon Rice has his sights set on the game's all-time greats
Simeon Rice, who has a chiseled physique that screams dedication and a career sack total that couldn't be gained by raw talent alone, says his entire 2006 offseason was about work. Hard work.
He usually takes a break, often to travel the world, but this spring and summer he didn't. He's not even sure that was the right decision, but it was what he was feeling at the time. Still is. Football became his "lifestyle" this year, he said. He recalls his former position coach, Rod Marinelli, telling him he was the bar by which pass-rushers are measured, and he wants to set that bar higher.
So he worked and worked. And now this author doesn't have to.
Want to know what Rice is all about and what he thinks about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' chances in 2006? No storytelling necessary on our part. Just listen to the man break it down, from beginning (of his football story) to end (of this season, possibly in early February):
That's what my whole, [what] the adventures in football have been about for me: hard work. That's really, that's my essence. When you take it all away from me, you take the number off my back, the name off my jersey, the Bucs' sign off my helmet, pads away, all I am is still the kid from 117th and State Street, south side of Chicago that works hard.
*And that's why I try, really just when I hit the field that's all I try to symbolize. That's all I'm going to go out doing.
This is my sixth year with the Bucs, to do it, sit in front of you all at the start of every season, in hopes of something bigger to come, and always chasing something we don't have. But in the end, hopefully, like in that one year we were able to attain it, but it's going to be hard work. That's what I did all year, and that was coming off last year, that's something that stood out in my mind, after we played the Redskins. I'm like 'Wow, we were so close.'
And we got some real good pieces here on offense. Chris [Simms] getting another year under his belt throwing the ball, that always helps it go forward. And you see what Mike Clayton's doing, making these big catches, and he's coming back even that much more hungrier. We got some really good pieces in place.
We just have to continue to do our job, continue to excel, and never fall back on our laurels. I'm in a constant hunt. I'm in a constant hunt. You know, for myself, I'm in a constant hunt of sack titles, of being the best, of setting the bar in this game. And when Rod [Marinelli] left, he's like 'That's something you're going to continue Sim, without me. I'm going to still look from it from afar. But you're going to continue to set the bar.'
And for myself, this is what it is. And for me, coming back, for what we're trying to really get done and complete on defense from a defensive line standpoint, from a unit standpoint, is push this thing forward. Continue to push it forward and allow us to play through. Special teams is going to be big for us this year. So if we hitting on all accords, we will be in South Beach, and it will be a fun time for us."*
Yes, that was one unbroken and expressive soliloquy, one of several offered up by Rice when he met with the assembled media at Bucs training camp on Monday. (To watch the video of Rice's interview, visit the Training Camp Central video archive.) It gave a glimpse into the motivation of the second-leading sack artist among active players, and the man who believes he'll be at the top of the all-time list when it's all said and done.
While he's not keeping a year-by-year tally of where he stands in league and team annals, his talk is peppered with the names of NFL greats, from Reggie White to Michael Strahan to Mean Joe Greene.
"Joe Greene told me early on when I first got into the league, he said, 'Once you show your face, son, that you're good, you have to be good all the time, and that's the hardest thing,'" said Rice. "When they know you're coming, and when they know what to expect, and when they scheme you all week and you're still hitting them, hitting them, hitting them, it's all praises due at a certain point in time. And that's real. But it's what it is. I'm going to still continue that fight, because that's my fight.
"I'm on my way to being the best ever, period. I mean that's what it is, you know what I mean? We can throw the names in there. LeBron [James], Kobe [Bryant], D-Wade [Dwyane Wade], we can throw all the names in there. It can be arguable. I'm game for that. I'm humble enough to say that. But in the end, I sit on top [in the NFL]. In the end, I sit on top. That's how I look at it. That's the way it is."
Heading into the 2006 season, Rice's 11th in the NFL, he has 119 career sacks, second among current players behind Strahan and his 129.5. Rice's per-year average of 11.9 sacks is better than Strahan, who has played 13 years at 10.0 per. The all-time leader is Bruce Smith, who had 200 sacks over 19 seasons (10.5 per year), followed by White at 198 over 15 seasons (13.2 per year). Of Rice's 119 sacks, 67.5 have come in his five seasons as a Buccaneer, which leaves him just 11 short of the franchise's all-time record. Rice hasn't seen the south side of 11 sacks since he donned the pewter and red, so there's an excellent chance Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon will be displaced by January.
Rice has eight double-digit sack seasons but has been to "only" three Pro Bowls. That doesn't particularly keep him up at night, but he does admit to negative motivation, additional fuel to add to the positive draw of the all-time sack marks.
"You know what irritates me?" he asked. "I'm about to tell you what irritates me. If you're going to have Defensive Player of the Year awards, and not even mention me, not even a mention; if sacks, fumbles, impact plays in crucial moments, red zone plays, takeaways [don't count]. There isn't anybody out there, nobody out there is doing it like that. They might have a little glimmer, they might have a little shine, you know? They might have their day, you know what I mean? But week after week, month after month, you know who's going to drill the league in the Decembers. You know this. It's consistency that is what greatness is. Consistency, that's what makes dynasties. Consistency, that's how you view great players. That's how you view great champions, you know? In boxing, in anything, in track, it's the consistency of it."
In fact, Rice's sack rate does go up in December, which has more often than not involved a playoff drive since his arrival in Tampa. In 45 career regular-season games after November, Rice has averaged 0.81 sacks per game. In his other 113 games, he has averaged 0.73 sacks per game.
Obviously, both numbers are outstanding – the first averages out to just under 13 sacks over a full season while the second comes in at just under 12 – but perhaps that speaks to Rice's claim of consistency, too. It's clear, though, that Rice is motivated by the thought of making big plays in key situations, such as the four sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery he contributed during the three postseason games of 2002, including two sacks in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Rice has other motivations – respect, of course, and a desire to do things his way among them – but the specifics may not matter much to Buccaneer fans. All they want to know is that he is still supremely motivated, that the lightning-quick sacks and arm-chop forced fumbles will continue. Rice has put in the work to make sure they will, even if it meant a break from his usual offseason travels.
"I've been places that many people can't even talk about," said Rice. "And that's all a tribute to hard work. But, you know, beyond all that, the things that sustain me are the reasons why I play this game. The Walter Paytons, LTs [Lawrence Taylor], 'Mean' Joe Greene, my former coach, Deacon Jones. To be in the likes of those guys, to me, that's what this game is about. And when you're reaching heights like that, the Reggie Whites, Bruce Smiths, that's when you're honoring the game the way it's supposed to be played."