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Go Long!: My Journey Beyond the Game and the Fame Paperback – January 29, 2008

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About the Author

Jerry Rice attended the Mississippi Valley State University and was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the first round of the 1985 NFL draft. In his twenty-year football career, he was elected Rookie of the Year (1985), was selected to the Pro Bowl thirteen times, won three Super Bowl rings (and was named the MVP of Super Bowl XXIII), and was chosen for the NFL’s 75th Anniversary and All-Time teams. Now a broadcast personality and commentator, he lives in California with his wife and their three children.

Brian Curtis is the author of Every Week a Season and The Men of March, as well as the co-author with Nick Saban of How Good Do You Want to Be? A former reporter for FOX Sports, he is a host and analyst on College Sports Television. He lives in New York with his wife, Tamara, and daughter, Emily.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

Way Down South

Most of the time, I’d run late in the afternoon. The temperature would still be over one hundred in the summertime despite the sleepy sun. Wearing my one pair of sneakers and a ragged shirt and shorts, I’d grab a small towel from my mother before heading out. Out the front door and into the country. The roads were dirt-covered, as there was no pavement where we lived. I’d run and kick dirt off my heels as I passed our neighbors’ houses and waved to passersby. Being in the sticks of Mississippi meant “neighbors” could be miles apart. As cars passed me, the tires spewed up dirt all over my face and clothes as I made my way around the seven-mile or so circular journey. With sweat running profusely down my face, the towel came in handy, but in the last mile or so, when my body was aching, I’d often throw it to the side. When I returned home to our house in the country, life—as I knew it—picked up again.

Close your eyes and imagine a small town in the Deep South. A certain picture probably pops up: dirt roads, pickup trucks, hot sweaty August days. Whether you have visited the area, or simply recall a small southern town from a movie, your image is probably close to reality. Now picture that same small town much, much smaller. That’s the best way to introduce my hometown of Crawford, Mississippi. There are no stoplights, very few street signs, a few broken-down sidewalks, and not that many people—somewhere between five hundred and a thousand back when I was growing up. But not only were we small in numbers, it seemed like we were all distant cousins. Everyone knew everyone else, and everyone old enough to be a parent was a parent to all the kids. You couldn’t get away with much.

I was the sixth of eight kids born to Joe and Eddie B. Rice, two native Mississippians. There were my older siblings, Eddie Dean, Joe, Tom, Jimmy, and James, and my younger ones, Loistine and Zebedee. We were a big family, but close. I shared a bedroom with three of my brothers, so sometimes we were too close! We lived on seven acres in a house that my father built with his own hands, about thirty minutes outside of the “town” of Crawford. So you can imagine just how far out we lived. There was thigh-high brush, swampland, wild horses, and dirt roads, not to mention the nearly triple-digit weather most days. We had a few neighbors “within calling distance,” as my mother would say, including my grandparents. I was a true southern boy from the sticks.

My father, Joe, stood six feet, and weighed maybe 280 pounds. He was the provider for the family and the rule-maker, and oh, how we all followed the rules. My father was intimidating and could be mean—very mean—but in the way he thought was right. Life was hard and he believed it was his job to prepare us for it. His intimidating scowl and raised voice would scare a common man, let alone a group of children. Occasionally, I saw a different side to my dad, a side that rarely raised its head. He loved to fish, and I would tag along on the hour-long walk to a nearby lake where he would stake his spot and search for catfish. He was relaxed on the lake and took joy in snaring a big one. But he didn’t fish that often, which meant most of the time, my “other” dad was in control.

His hands were crusty from so many days out in the Mississippi sun building homes, laying bricks, brick by brick, day after day, all year long; sometimes he’d work two or three different jobs to get money.

In the South close to thirty years ago, affection wasn’t shown much between parents and children, or even between parents. When it was time to be tough, my father could be tough. If one of us did something wrong, my father would instruct us to go into the backyard and pick a stick—a stick he would then use to beat us on our behinds and back, to teach us a lesson or two. Sometimes he pulled out a large leather belt and whipped us good. The extension cord hurt as well. He would whip me and my brothers and my sisters—no one was immune. The beatings hurt so bad that they were a good deterrent to keep us all out of trouble. I remember one evening, when I was about fourteen years old, a few of my brothers and sisters and I snuck out of the house to go to a neighbor’s to watch the Jackson Five perform on television. We didn’t have a TV but we were big Jackson Five fans. So, despite my father’s insistence that we not leave the house, we did. The beatings upon our return left a mark—literally and figuratively. But that’s how they did it where and when I grew up. I guess the fear of getting hit by the stick and the intimidating look on my father’s face kept pushing me to do the right thing. And it still does.

My mother, Eddie B., was short, a conservative woman with a grand heart who welcomed any and all into our home for lavishly cooked meals. She raised us while my father worked. But despite the economic struggles, I think it’s safe to say that my parents did a pretty good job raising all of us, treating us all as equals. On Sundays we would go to the Pinegrove Missionary Baptist Church for services as a family and in the evenings we would sit around the dinner table together. That’s just what we did.

My childhood was like that of many young boys—I played sandlot football into the night, read Sports Illustrated under the covers, and bellyached when it was time to get up and go to school. In the summertime and over the holidays, I worked with my father laying bricks for homes and businesses. Bricklaying is demanding, tough work. We would be up at five a.m. and work until sundown. My brothers and I would be the supply chain for my father, who actually laid the brick and mortar onto the structure. It was our job to make sure that the bricks were ready to be laid down and the mortar prepared to be spread. On many occasions, I was the last link between the bricks and my father. My brothers and I would bring the bricks to a worksite and pass them from one to another until handing them to my dad for placing. Often, when my father had moved on to the second floor of a structure, I would balance myself on the scaffolding two stories up and catch bricks that my brothers would throw to me from the ground. (Some like to say that’s where my great catching hands for football came from—I’m not so sure. Brick-catching requires hard hands and an aggressive approach; catching a football requires soft hands to cradle. Regardless, the hand-eye coordination had to help me down the road.)

Bricklaying wasn’t fun work, but it earned us money, some of which I turned over to my parents to help pay for clothes and groceries. I do remember how anxious I was to make sure there was always a brick and mortar for my father. I didn’t want to let him down. Time is money in the bricklaying business, so any slowdown in supply cost my father money. That’s a lot of pressure on a teenager. I was afraid to fail. But you know what? Fear of failure isn’t always a bad thing. It helped keep me focused on the task. And a fear of failure has carried me through my life.

It’s probably a big surprise to many of you that I am so insecure about success. In fact, it took me years to admit that fear is at the root of my performance. It goes against much of what the literature and “gurus” out there insist, that you have to let go of your fear to ever be successful; that you can’t be afraid to fail. I don’t think that’s an absolute. My fear of failing as a child carried over onto the football field in high school and then college. I was so concerned about not being successful that it pushed me to be successful. All of those extra hours in the gym or on the track or on the practice fields were more than just about hard work; they were about avoiding failure. Before every game of my NFL career I was scared—scared to drop the big pass, scared I’d let my teammates down. And now I realize it all goes back to not wanting to disappoint my father.

My parents’ parenting proved that hard work and shared responsibility works. There were no slackers among us, as everyone had to pull their weight. Mom and Dad taught us that money is not everything. Mom insisted that love was the only thing we all needed. We went without on many occasions, meaning we didn’t have many pairs of pants or shoes. Even a hearty meal at dinnertime was a luxury on many nights.

There were other ways to make money besides bricklaying when I was growing up in Mississippi, and one of those jobs may surprise you. A big revenue stream for business owners down south was agriculture, particularly cotton and corn. To get the goods to the market, the products first had to be picked from the ground. I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t picking cotton something slaves did? Yes. But I didn’t think of it that way. I saw it as a way to buy groceries for my family and some clothes for myself. My siblings worked alongside me in humid heat, picking the corn stalks, baling hay, and yes, picking cotton. I was certainly aware that many blacks in the south had been forced to pick cotton for centuries but that didn’t stop me from earning a day’s wage. Some of our black friends and neighbors refused to work in the fields and questioned why we were willing to. But to me, it was about earning money, and since we were being paid, I never thought of it as trampling on the memory of our forefathers and mothers and I still don’t.

Sure, there was racism in Mississippi. We’re talking about the 1960s and 1970s, a time when the civil rights movement was under way but slow to reach parts of America. Yet growing up, I never once experienced racism firsthand. No one called me the N word, no one painted racist slogans on our home or burned a cross on our lawn; we were lucky. But from what family and friends told me, I also knew I probably would get dirty stares if I walked into certain parts of the county that were predominantly white. Maybe it was because of my skin color, maybe because I couldn’t afford many of the goods on store shelves in those areas. I did have a few white friends, a few white classmates, but for the most part, blacks surrounded me. There was an area down Route 12 we called the Crossroads, where blacks and whites hung out, but never together, and I did go down there on occasion, but always stayed with the blacks. (Years later, after I made it in the NFL, the whites didn’t give me nasty stares when I hung out in “their” area, probably because I wasn’t just some black guy from the country.)

One of the more unusual aspects of living out in the country lands of Mississippi was the thrilling and exhausting practice of riding wild horses. But this isn’t a Seabiscuit story where you would wake up early morning, walk out to the stable, pat your horse down, and hop on for a dawn ride. No, just getting on the horse was a challenge. You see, the horses ran wild over the countryside, so if you wanted to go for a quick jaunt on top of the animal, you first had to chase it down. And that takes a lot of work and patience. On a good day, it would take me forty-five minutes to an hour to chase down a horse. With no fences and no boundaries, just imagine the size of the pasture we were dealing with. (And when I went riding with friends, we had to chase down the first horse, tie him up or use him to chase down the others, before we actually got to have fun riding!)

My favorite horse I called Pete. Boy, was he fast. He could make quick turns (like a good wide receiver) and his black mane made him easily identifiable. As time went on, I got faster chasing down Pete and the other horses. You would be amazed at what experience teaches you. I realized that it wasn’t about being in the spot the horse was; it was about being in the spot the horse was going to be. I began to think one step ahead and it actually slowed down the chase for me.

I loved to play sandlot football or shoot hoops outside on the farm but I was never in love with any one sport and certainly never thought one would be part of my destiny. I remember Fourth of July cookouts and baseball games and I remember the Christmas days when I was given a new football. I never asked for one, I just got them. I’d go outside and toss the ball around with my brothers, but never put much thought into playing the game for real. I did read about and watch guys like the Dallas Cowboys’ Drew Pearson and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Lynn Swann. I appreciated how they dominated the game—but I never wanted to be them. I watched our high school team play and was impressed by our quarterback, little man Kent Thomas, who was just five foot eight, but who took command of the huddle and the field, wore his uniform crisp and clean, and earned the respect of his teammates.

My older brothers were my playmates and teammates in our mock games of football or basketball or even the simplest games of skill. Tom and James were tremendous athletes. James could catch, shoot, and hit better than just about anyone I knew—and he was born deaf. To compensate for his handicap, James used his intelligence. Boy, was he smart. But while we did all we could to help him be social, it wasn’t enough. So, when I was just ten and James sixteen, we drove up to Jackson, Mississippi, to a school for the deaf and settled James into his new home. We were devastated to leave him behind. But the school turned out to be a great thing, and James soon learned sign language and made all kinds of friends. He would return to Crawford to work with my father in the bricklaying business. Despite not being able to hear or speak, James was a legitimate bricklayer, earning the real money, while most of us—his siblings—were merely helpers.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (January 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345496124
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345496126
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #278,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Linda A. Fazio on January 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I have always loved to watch Jerry Rice on the football field. What a class act in all aspects of his life. For football fans, it was interesting to learn some about the inside realities of how teams and coaches operate. I think very few people in sports possess the work ethic and personal responsibility to achieve perfection as Jerry Rice does. He will always be a success as a man, husband, father, athlete or anthing he chooses because of the determination and drive he possesses as reflected in his book. His athleticism and, at the same time, grace is unsurpassed. The man can dance too! A good read that will remind folks that hard work and humility is a sterling quality in all walks of life and that even humble beginnings can be an asset in the scope of life. Love the man! (And I'm a lady who loves football!)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Julie Fiedler on February 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Jerry Rice's story is a quick read and quite entertaining. His candid comments about other players are heartfelt and truly illustrate Jerry's serious take on the game of football. He holds both himself and others to a high standard, and that is refreshing in this world where so many athletes appear to want the glory without the work. I highly recommend Go Long! Even my thirteen year old who hates to read loved it!
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By T. Smith on January 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I burned through this book the day it was released. Although the book is short it is not short on great stories and inspirational tales. Any fan of the 49ers, Jerry or the NFL should pick this book up!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By stingray VINE VOICE on February 3, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My takeaway for" Go Long" is that I learned a little what motivated Jerry Rice. The fear of failure, the insecurity and the need to please his father and later his coach Welsh. Some superstars rely only on their talents, Lawrence Taylor and others but Jerry Rice have it in their DNA to overachieve, the work ethics is amazing. He worked out like no one, he knew he might not be the most talented(which I think he was, the records speaks for themselves) but no one will out practice him, or work harder then, Jerry Rice. That was his mindset for his own career. And yet, he regrets not spending more time with his family. He never took a vacation, he was always working out and practicing. I learned a few other things, his trauma of almost losing his wife and behind the scenes of Dancing with the Stars.

Another takeaway is that he was not afraid to take risk, he took risk going to a small college, leaving the San Francisco and doing a reality show of professional vs. regular Joes. I admire that in him. Actually I admire his awesome work ethic and his willingness to go beyond his comfort zone
What I didn't admire is that like so many superstars, he waited too long to retire. Supposedly, his agent fax Jerry interest in playing football to all the teams. He was and is too classy for that. I admire those that retire winning, a la Tony La Russa. And they were some instances of his ill feelings for the 49ers when they let him go and to the winners of the Dancing with the Stars because some of the contestants had prior dancing experiences- again Jerry is a classy guy, I wish he would have taken the high road in both instances. There were a few more but nobody is perfect.

I love Jerry Rice and I do recommend the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By K. Frazer on March 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent book, easy read. Very frank and honest dialogue produces a very refreshing look at the character and

makeup of NFL great Jerry Rice. He possesses "old school" values, rare for todays athletes and his humble

approach and its origins are clearly defined in his upbringing. Would highly recommend it for parents and players

of any sport as well as non-players as it explores more than the world of athletics and promotes a great

work ethic.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Spressler on February 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great book about "THE GREATEST PLAYER" THE NFL HAS EVER SEEN! Thanks Jerry for sharing your life's journey with your fans.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Southern Reader on June 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed the book, but do not expect great writing or insights. This is one of those obligatory autobios that sports figures feel they have to write for their fans. I'd have liked to read more about Rice's growing up in MS. His coments on various fellow sprts stars was fun to reqd. ( He doesn't believe Barry Bonds either ). Quick read. Solid three stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Garry Flora on October 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jerry Rice has routinely been called the all time greatest reciever for the last 20 years. This title does not do him justice. In football, the goal of the offense is to move the ball and score points...preferably touchdowns. The goal of the defense is to prevent this from happening. Jerry Rice could not be stopped by the Giants, the Bears, the Cowboys, the Steelers, the Broncos nor any one else at any time in his career. He not only is the all time leader in catches, yards and touchdowns, no one else is even close. This man is quite simply the greatest football player of all time.
Jerry touches on his life and career from high school, college and the NFL. He speaks of his legendary work ethic, the fact, that in his opinion Joe Montana was superior to Steve Young, and, as a devoted family man and husband, the ordeal he went through when his wife faced life-threatening complications after giving birth.
This a an interestng,quick read about a classy individual as well as a superb player and would reccomend it to any football or sports fan.
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