Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Rick Cleveland: Who will be the next Jerry Rice?

Much of the appeal of writing about Mississippi sports for nearly half a century is trying to pick out who's going to be next.

Next? The next Archie. The next Jerry. The next Walter. And so on...

In Mississippi, there's always going to be a next. Before Archie, their was Chunkin' Charlie and Jake, and after Archie, there were Reggie, and Brett and Steve.

The devil is in the details. We can see the physical tools. That is, we can see how big they are, how fast they run, how high they jump, how strong they are.

We can't see inside.

We can't see how badly they want to be the best, how hard they will work. We can't see their will. We can't measure their grit. We can't measure their “it” — as in the “it” factor.

Jerry Rice was not the biggest or the fastest wide receiver. He was simply the best, and he was that because nobody worked harder than he. He was the proverbial first on the field and last off it. I well remember Rice winning the Super Bowl MVP Trophy and then hearing that upon his return to the West Coast, he was out on the practice field working out. All his teammates had packed up and left the 49ers training facility. Rice was back at work. Rice had eight months to prepare for his next game.

He wasn't going to miss a day.

Much the same was true of Walter Payton. He wasn't the biggest or the fastest. He was just as good as he could possibly be in every phase of the game. He maxed out. You couldn't get any more out of Walter than what we saw first on Friday night, and then Saturday and finally Sunday.

We have had more gifted running backs than Walter Payton, more gifted wide receivers than Rice. But the most gifted don't always turn out to be the best. And that's a long preface to today's subject, which is that high school wide receivers A.J. Brown of Starkville and D.K. Metcalf of Oxford have excellent opportunities to be “next.” They can be as good as they want to be, as we saw in Mississippi's 28-21 victory over Alabama last Saturday afternoon at Hattiesburg.

The two wide receivers were named co-MVPs. Brown had nine receptions for 137 yards and two touchdowns while Metcalf caught five passes for 151 yards and two scores. Alabama's defensive backs were simply overmatched.

I happened to be standing on the sidelines, chatting with an old friend early in Saturday's game, when we heard the home crowd begin to cheer loudly. Even with the roar, I could hear loud, pounding steps coming rapidly down the sideline. I turned, just as Metcalf flashed by, an amazing blend of speed and sinew leaving smaller, slower players behind en route to a 69-yard touchdown catch and run.

Thankfully, they showed the replay on the big screen.

Metcalf took a short pass, shed two defenders as if he were brushing away gnats and then raced down the sidelines putting more and more distance between him and his pursuers. It was not unlike Secretariat at the Belmont.

What I'll not forget: The sound of Metcalf speeding down the sidelines, heard over the roar of the crowd.

Both Metcalf and Brown continued to make plays, as much with their muscle as with their speed, hands and agility. They were the most impressive parts of a Mississippi team that was remarkable in both size and depth of talent.

“Pretty,” was the word coaches used over and over to describe the Mississippi players. As in, as long-time Mississippi high school coach Junior Graham, put it, “I've never seen such a pretty group of high school football players.”

It struck me that these 17- and 18-year-olds were as big and as fast as NFL players three decades ago.

This is not to say that Metcalf and Brown, either one, will become the next Jerry Rice. Indeed, there may never be another. But both have a chance. We shall see.


Rick Cleveland ( is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.


Anonymous said...

The key for Rice and Payton was longevity and durability. That is what made them great.

Patrick Willis and Eli Manning have been the best players in the NFL from Mississippi colleges in the last 5 or so years, though neither is from Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

The "next" is here. His name is Treadwell. I saw him in person and I'm pretty sure he's half alien.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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