Lewis Morgan, who had an appreciation for the classics, did his best to teach his grandson the finer points in life. Each week during football season, he would give little Josh an assignment.
"My homework during elementary school was to watch 49ers games," Josh Morgan recalled. "And in every game I watched, Jerry Rice would do something."
Morgan grew up in Washington D.C., where 49ers games weren't generally on the lesson plan. But Grandpa Morgan believed that watching Rice was the best football education he could offer -- science, poetry and history, all in one class.
When the 49ers drafted Morgan in 2008, the receiver went for his Ph.D.: He asked the team's video crew to dig through the archives and put every Rice highlight on to a continuous reel. The result was a four-DVD set that remains the best action adventure movie Morgan ever saw.
"I think he's the greatest football player to ever play the game. He's everything I wanted to be growing up," Morgan said. "I might not have even started playing the game if it wasn't for how much he added to the receiver position, how much he dominated.
"He's like the Michael Jordan of football to me."
Rice will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, when he will be saluted for his 22,895 career yards, 1,549 catches and 208 total touchdowns.
The 49ers consider Jerry Rice so worthy of emulation that coach Mike Singletary tried to arrange for his team captains and other key players to attend Rice's Hall of Fame induction ceremony this Saturday.
It turned out to be too difficult, logistically, to pull off, but the mere notion of taking a field trip to Ohio during training camp shows how important Rice remains to the franchise.
In advance of his induction, current 49ers talked about what it means to be associated with the NFL's most prolific receiver:
Ted Ginn Jr., receiver: He's an all-time great. What he did really speaks for itself. Growing up in the Midwest, it was hard for me to see a lot of Jerry's games. But just knowing and hearing about him, I know he was a great man. He was a hard worker. You can learn a lot from him. Just being here, sitting in this room, you know that one of these lockers belonged to him. It's just great. It's a great tradition when you come here. You can play for something other than yourself.
Frank Gore, running back: I've talked with Jerry a whole lot. The year I hurt my finger (in 2007) and I really couldn't play during camp, that's the most I ever talked to him. We just talked about how if you want to be the best, how you have to train. Even when I couldn't practice, he told me how much I had to stay in the playbook. He told me that when I'm out there, I have to think of myself as practicing while I'm watching. I took in a lot from him.
Michael Crabtree, receiver: Every receiver that makes the Hall of Fame, I look up to all those guys. That's a great accomplishment. To be there, that's the top of the list. I've watched film (of Rice) on my own, looking at him and seeing all the routes and everything he did to have those numbers. But I look at a lot of guys, like Isaac Bruce.
Coach Sully (receivers coach Jerry Sullivan) brings out some old tapes, man. I just tell him, "Bring me all you can get."
Patrick Willis, linebacker: I'd heard of Jerry Rice, but I didn't know the extent (of his accomplishments) until I was older. I've met him and hung out with him a few times. He's a phenomenal guy and a heck of a player. It's an honor to be playing for the same team he played for. Hopefully, someday I can walk in those shoes, too, in the Hall of Fame. But that's a long time from now.
Vernon Davis, tight end: I've known Jerry for a long time. We talk on the telephone. He always talks to me about hard work and dedication. I've had a chance to watch him on film. When we talk, it's always about football.
Jason Hill, receiver: Oh, man. He was the best. The best. Some of the things Jerry did, you just have to watch. You really can't try to emulate it because you can't do that stuff and you don't want to put that pressure on yourself to do that stuff. He was the best. That's all I can say. I just remember seeing touchdowns. He was always in the end zone. Obviously, as a kid, touchdowns and dunks are what you remember. And he was always in the zone.
I met him a few times. I went out to dinner with him in Florida. He signed a jersey for me. He's a very good guy. He told me a lot about working hard and work-ethic type stuff. But it was more about life and enjoying the moment. I think that's part of the reason he lasted so long. He enjoyed it.
Mike Singletary, coach: What was it like to play against Jerry? It was a headache. I would think that's the best way to try to describe it. He was just the guy that you knew what you were going to get.
He was consistent from the start of his career until the very end; a perfectionist. You knew that if he was going to run a route, he wasn't a blazer, but extremely consistent and extremely detailed in his routes. When you find a guy that's as dedicated as he was, that's just really tough to handle.
For more on the 49ers, see Daniel Brown's Hot Read blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/49ers.
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