Jerry Rice, who rode off the field last season on a sea of San Francisco 49er shoulder pads, will ride into the sunset as an Oakland Raider.
The Raiders are expected to announce Tuesday that they have signed the 38-year-old receiver to a multiyear deal. That he chose Oakland over the Seattle Seahawks was confirmed Monday by Bill Walsh, his longtime coach, at Rice's charity golf tournament.
"As far as Jerry is concerned, the closure of this is great," Walsh said. "I'm glad it's the Raiders. I'm glad he's right here at home and it's not difficult, that he doesn't feel he's being shipped to Devil's Island somewhere in the Midwest."
The 49ers, who agreed to keep Rice on the roster until he had another deal in place, released him Monday, clearing $2.5 million against the salary cap.
Before he teed off Monday, Rice told reporters he still was considering Oakland and Seattle and would make his final choice later in the day.
"I feel OK," he said of being released. "I've had a chance to prepare myself for it. I think it's probably best for both parties right now.
"I'm anxious to get it done. It's been a lot of weight on my shoulders."
Rice, a 12-time all-pro receiver, holds 14 NFL records, 10 Super Bowl records, and twice was named the league's player of the year.
"Everyone in this organization feels it's the end of a tremendous era," 49er General Manager Terry Donahue said. "He set a standard for many players who will come after him that will be very difficult to uphold."
Time will tell if Rice's decision to close out his career with the Raiders, the NFL's last-chance saloon, is a good one. Will he and Tim Brown form a killer 1-2 punch? Will Rice provide the boost the up-and-coming Raiders need to lift them to their first Super Bowl since 1984? Or will this simply be a sad postscript to an otherwise glorious career?
In December, when rumors began to swirl that Rice was headed across the bay, Raider receiver Andre Rison said he had his doubts the marriage would succeed.
"I don't know if there would be enough balls," Rison said. "Man, if he came here crying, it ain't going to work. Me and Timmy get along just fine. I catch my two or three. If (Rice) came here crying, it ain't going to work."
But Rison may have no say in the matter. He was released after the season and, although the Raiders have expressed interest in re-signing him, the addition of Rice could change that.
The Raiders have long searched for a capable receiving companion for Brown, and James Jett was barely adequate in that regard. Rison was better. It's uncertain if Rice, who runs the same types of routes as Brown, will settle for sidekick status.
"Jerry and Tim are very similar receivers," said ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, a former NFL quarterback. "But I'm a big believer that you can't have enough talent. If you've got quality people, someone's going to win."
Jaworski said Raider Coach Jon Gruden is innovative enough to spread the football, and quarterback Rich Gannon's ability to im provise makes Rice a good fit.
"That's where the intelligence of Jerry Rice comes into play," Jaworski said. "He keeps working to get open."
Many 49er fans are less than tickled that Rice -- perhaps the greatest receiver in NFL history and a lock for the Hall of Fame -- will don the silver and black, as former 49ers Ronnie Lott and Roger Craig did. But lots of Raider faithful see Rice as a player who can help their team to its first Super Bowl appearance in 18 years.
The marquee outside Ricky's, a Raider bar in San Leandro, reads: "Welcome Jerry to Raiderland."
"I never ever in my whole life thought I'd see Jerry Rice come to the Raiders," said Ricky Ricardo, who owns the bar. "But strange things happen."
Just ask Riki Ellison. He spent seven seasons as a 49er linebacker before signing with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1990. He was so enamored of the team's swashbuckling image, he bought a black leather jacket and a Harley-Davidson, which he rode back to the Bay Area after the season. His neighbors in the posh Portola Valley didn't recognize the hulking man rumbling down their quiet street. He was helmet-less, unshaven and spattered with mud.
"They thought I was a Hell's Angel," he said last fall. "I had Raider logos all over the bike. They didn't know what to do, so they called the cops."
Ellison, who now works for a communications company in Arlington, Va., said the Raiders of the early '90s were the "anti-Niners" in many ways.
"They weren't as strict or disciplined," he said. "With the 49ers, everything was full-on--meetings, practices, everything. It's like a corporate ladder. No rest, no enjoyment.
"When I got to the Raiders, it was more of a playground. There was a little more teasing going on and a lot more fun. In my first practice there I was going full speed, and I was the only guy doing it. Everybody else was doing their own style. They were like, 'What the hell are you doing? It's just practice."'
Rice is known for his work ethic, and that's unlikely to change wherever he plays. But he might feel out of place with the Raiders. One of his former teammates did.
"When we were in L.A., Ronnie and I were roommates on the road," Craig said last fall. "We laughed about it all the time. We'd say, 'Can you believe we're playing for the Raiders?' That year we played the Niners and beat them. We didn't feel good about it. We were out there beating our brothers. Deep down inside, that wasn't cool."
Rice will get a chance to test that theory soon enough. The Raiders play the 49ers in an exhibition game Aug. 19.
Of course, that's just one game.
Said Donahue, "In our minds, and in the minds of the average fans, Jerry Rice is a 49er for life."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.