Jerry Rice, perhaps the greatest wide receiver in NFL history, walked off the field at 3Com Park tonight for the 126th and final time as a San Francisco 49er.
Or maybe not.
"I didn't look at it that way," Rice said when asked if today was his farewell to the only home stadium he's known in his 16-year career. "I'm not going to say it's completely out of my hands, but I feel I deserve a legitimate chance next year."
Rice may be done in San Francisco because the franchise needs to find some way to trim $18 million from its payroll by next season, and Rice ($5.5 million due next year) and concussion-battered quarterback Steve Young ($8.1 million) are prime candidates to go if the team is to fit under the salary cap.
However, Rice is more than willing to sit down with the accountants and work something out.
"Money is not an issue," he said. "I've always been flexible about my contracts. I'm just not going to work for chump change."
So right now, no one in San Francisco will say that the two icons have played their last game for the 49ers.
"I don't know the answer to that question," 49ers Coach Steve Mariucci said when asked about Rice's future. "We have not sat down and discussed that yet."
Rice has said repeatedly he'd be happy to be back here next year.
"If it's up to me, I'll be back," he said. "I can tell you guys right now the fire is still burning within."
At times during the game, it showed. Rice made three key grabs for a total of 34 yards in the Niners' opening drive. His first, an 11-yard cross in front of Redskins cornerback Darrell Green, on third and 10 from the 20, extended his NFL record of consecutive games with a catch to 208.
That wasn't the only time Rice came in contact with Green today, and the two old pros with a combined 34 years of NFL experience kept a conversation going.
"When you got a guy like that for so many years you just want to let him know you respect him for his work ethic, for the type of person he is off the football field," Rice said of Green. "That's what we talked about."
Rice also got the 3Com crowd on its feet on a trick play that almost worked. Early in the fourth quarter, with a second-and-five from the Redskins 35, The Niners called a reverse to Rice, who rolled left and unleashed a pass down the right hashmark toward teammate J.J. Stokes streaking downfield.
Rice started laughing when asked about the play.
"It just got caught in my glove," he said. "When I first came around on the reverse I saw J.J. get behind the guy, but when I threw it, it stuck in my hand and didn't get there. I was kicking myself for that."
In fact, despite the overtime loss, Rice was smiling after the game, and appeared nothing like a guy who's about to retire.
"If it had been my last game, there would have been a white horse out there," Rice said. "It would have ended with me getting on that white horse and riding off."