Simeon Rice not only was one of the game’s dominant pass rushers; he ranks 20th on the NFL’s career sack list, with 122.
Of the 19 players ahead of him, 12 are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and six are not yet eligible. Then there are Rice and Leslie O’Neal, both of whom have been eligible for years and both of whom are first-time semifinalists for the Class of 2018.
For years, Rice has said he believes he was a Hall-of-Fame performer, and when we caught up with him on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast he reiterated that position — though a little more forcefully than two years ago when he joined us as someone who deserves to be discussed but has never been chosen as a semifinalist.
Well, now he has, with Rice saying, “I’m more humbled than anything” by the honor. But he also made it clear it’s a reward for a career he believes — now more than ever — was Hall-of-Fame worthy.
“When I finished,” he said, “I was on my way to being the all-time all-time sack leader prior to my injury (he suffered a shoulder injury late in his career). OK? A man has to know his worth. You have to know … and that’s not arrogance. You just have to know. You should know.
“It’s a liberation (knowing) who you were and what you were about. And I knew because I played it. I dominated the game like nobody ever did before … and the sacks, the way they came and how I played. I lived the script, and the script was me.”
In that script, Rice was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, a three-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro and Super Bowl champion with the Tampa Bay Bucs. He would produce eight double-digit sack seasons, including five straight with the Bucs, who acquired him as an unrestricted free agent in 2001 after Rice spent his first five years with Arizona.
I lived those moments, and those moments kind of led me to believe that if anybody had the career I had, they would understand it was a Hall-of-Fame career
“I remember when I came to Tampa, and I was on the phone with (former Bucs’ GM) Rich McKay,” Rice said, “and I told Rich, ‘Within a year or two we’re going to win the Super Bowl,’ and they’re going to say, “It was genius bringing me down to Tampa from Arizona.’ I remember that. And I remember when we were hugging at the Super Bowl as the confetti was falling, and he said, ‘Wow, you kept your word.’
“I was the guy that they were driving … heading toward the podium (after Super Bowl XXXVII) … to do the “I’m going to Disneyland’ speech,” and they stopped and said, ‘Oh, my God. Dexter Jackson won it.’ And I’m like, ‘You know what … whatever. I’m going to still enjoy this moment. And I’m going to enjoy it for myself and my teammates.’
“So I lived those moments. I lived all those moments. I sat on the sidelines, and I looked in Warren Sapp’s eyes once when we were on the sidelines, and he said, ‘Simeon, you’ve got to be the baddest dude to ever play this position.’ after I had three sacks in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints to have at that time the most consecutive multi-sack games in a row …
“So I lived all those moments. I was Rookie of the Year in the NFL, and I say that because I’ve had so much success that I know what I was made of … I lived those moments, and those moments kind of led me to believe that if anybody had the career I had, they would understand it was a Hall-of-Fame career.
“So you have to be at peace as a person; you have to be at peace with the effort that you give. And if people come around to celebrate that or honor that, then that puts the cream on the top. But beyond that, regardless of how you think about me … and how this person feels about me … and how the Hall of fame feels about me … I have to know for myself, truthfully speaking, as an honorable man and as an honorable player, that I was able to affect the game. I think I changed the game. I think there were rules in the ga to try to prevent what I was able to do in the game.
“What I did changed the way offensive players look at defensive players. And for me, I was able to usher in so many players that similar to me … like the Jevon Kearses, who was one of my personal favorites to watch … the Dwight Freeneys of the world , another player who was fun to watch. Because when I first came in they didn’t know what I was — outside backer, defensive end, I’ll never forget all those things.
“I was a football player, and I was able to adjust in an yrealm I was placed in. And I was able to do it on two different football teams in such a way where it led one team to a Super Bowl and where we had one of the greatest defenses of all time. And my teammates would tell you … the guys that I played with … that I was the key cog to the Super Bowl; that when I was able to go to Tampa and do what had never been done before (I was) able to revolutionize the game with the pass rush where GMs and teams were looking for the next (Simeon Rice). “