The man whose record it was had a few nice things to say about the man who took it away.
No surprise there, since Jim Brown is thoughtful by nature and he had 29 years to get ready. But it was some of the other things Brown said that provide a unique perspective on how special Jerry Rice is. And will be for some time to come."Everybody is talking about what Jerry did. But for me," Brown said Tuesday night from his Los Angeles home, "that's almost missing the point.
"You've now got a guy that's scored more touchdowns than anybody and he's still got what - three, four, five, maybe more years left? Look at it that way, and what he's doing, more than just breaking records, is setting a standard.
"The time to consider what he's done won't be until he ends up with however many touchdowns he's going to get. Between then and now," he added. "What people should appreciate is how Jerry Rice gets it done."
That seems simple enough. Turn on the TV and locate No. 80 in the San Francisco uniform. See Jerry run. See Jerry catch. See Jerry deposit the ball in end zone. If you had the set on Monday night, you would have seen him manage the feat three times while the 49ers humiliated the Los Angeles Raiders 44-14.
On the first one, Rice covered 69 yards after slipping past two defensive backs to flag down a long heave from Steve Young. On the second, he ran 23 yards on a reverse. On the final one, a 38-yard score that gave Rice a total of 127 for his career, he came back a step to steal Young's underthrown pass and leave yet another defender grasping at air.
Ask any of the guys he beat whether they appreciated how Rice was getting it done and they didn't hesitate: Speed, strength, guile, toughness and desire. And a quarterback who has both the touch and the time to get him the ball, first Joe Montana and then Young.
Rice could tell you those things himself, and does, often. He did again Monday night, even remembering to thank Harry Sydney, the since-departed teammate who in 1987 became the only running back to ever throw him a TD.
But it's not quite that simple.
"The thing is, if he weren't so talented, you'd all be calling him a blue-collar guy because he works so hard at it," Young told reporters after the game. "There aren't enough of these kinds of guys doing great things, showing how to do them. He did this on work."
That is Brown's point exactly. If all the rest of us see is Jerry run, catch and score, we have his measure but not his essence. We know what he's accomplished, but not why. Brown, on the other hand, considers himself an expert on motivation. The record backs him up.
"Part of it is ambition and part of it is God-given talent. But the real trick is not stopping there. Rice hasn't missed a game and he could have, if he wanted to, believe me. I know, because I didn't either. But there's always an excuse - if you want it.
"It isn't just a matter of succeeding according to other people's standards. The truest satisfaction you get," he said, "is meeting the standards you set for yourself."
If being football's all-time touchdown-maker was a marker on his road map to somewhere else, Rice kept it to himself for a long time.
He didn't begin talking about Brown's record until the start of last season, and it wasn't until then that people noticed he was in reach despite touching the ball only about a third as often. And what they also noticed was that even with Montana gone, Rice's pace, as well as that of the 49ers, hardly slowed.
"That's another thing that's being overlooked," Brown said. "Some great players can perform on an individual level, but not in the context of a great team. Rice played with Joe Montana for years. He's played with John Taylor and Young and some others for a while.
"Think of how many great players he's been around, how much of that greatness he's claimed for himself and," he said, "how many times they've won. That might be the record he remembers most of all."