Jerry Rice is learning to say hello when it's time to say goodbye.
The sands are running out of the hourglass for the peerless San Francisco 49ers wide receiver, who already has his ticket punched for the Hall of Fame.
In the 27-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, he caught two passes for 2 yards. At age 37, Rice is near the end. He has 32 catches all year.
As the game wound down in the pouring rain in San Francisco and the only fans left were Steeler fans, he said, "You start thinking, 'Wow, what am I doing out there?' "
What's surprising about his decline is that he's in a better mood now than he was when he was at the top of his game.
Rice usually played with a chip on his shoulder and was quick to complain if he didn't get the ball or some honor. He was rarely a good interview.
He now says that former coach Bill Walsh told him as a rookie that he had to cooperate with and respect members of the media.
"It only took me 15 years to realize that," he said.
He said: "I'm not having one of those spectacular seasons or anything like that, but I think, off the field, I'm doing something that I'm really not accustomed to doing. Over the years, I used the media as a motivating factor. So much of my anger was built up around that and I would carry that onto the field. Now I'm more open and I'm having a better time. I don't walk around with this angry look on my face [with people] expecting me to explode. I think overall, I'm a better person now."
Rice has to face the prospect in the off-season that it's probably time to retire.
"I really have to sit down after the season and look at the entire picture," he said.
If this is his farewell, it's fortunate he's going out with a smile on his face. It's just unfortunate it took him so long to enjoy things.
He was at it big time last week. He started Monday by seeming to stir up a quarterback controversy.
He was reminded that he said on Oct. 17 when Damon Huard first replaced ailing Dan Marino that "He's [Marino] our starter, so I don't want any controversy."
He responded, "I didn't say there wouldn't be a controversy."
He then seemed to raise the bar for Marino's return.
"When Dan is 100 percent healthy and is 100 percent as far as being back in the offense and in rhythm, he's our starter," Johnson said.
Well, that started a firestorm in Miami. Suddenly, Marino had to be back "in rhythm" to start.
If Huard, who's won four straight, keeps winning, will Johnson decide Marino's not in rhythm?
So he called a local morning radio show Thursday to blame -- naturally -- the media for the controversy.
"If some of the idiots in the media would read what they write, then they would understand. If they would read my original statement when I said, 'I don't want a quarterback controversy.' That was my original statement. And then later on I said, 'I didn't say we weren't going to have a quarterback controversy.' And they're saying, 'Hey, he just contradicted himself.' I didn't contradict myself," he said.
He's right about that, but Johnson is too savvy not to know how his remarks would be interpreted. It's still unclear what he was trying to accomplish, but he seems to like to keep the pot boiling.
Meanwhile, Marino, who will miss today's game in Buffalo but is getting closer to being ready, was ticked off. He responded the way he usually does when he's annoyed. He refused to comment.
Huard did his best to defuse the whole thing.
"Dan Marino is the starter here. I am his backup," he said.
At least Marino's the starter once he gets back "in rhythm." Whatever Johnson feels that means.
There's a quarterback controversy brewing in Nashville, and coach Jeff Fisher wants no part of it.
After the Dolphins blanked Steve McNair and the Tennessee Titans last week, there was much talk about bringing back Neil O'Donnell.
Fisher, though, said: "Steve McNair is our starter. There is no controversy here. I don't believe in a guy losing his job because of an injury."
Fisher's not as good in the mind game business as Johnson is.
Upon further review
Instant replay may die of self-inflicted wounds if the league doesn't get it to work right in the second half of the year. It only takes eight votes to kill it, and the officials seem to be showing why it's a waste of time.
On the first play in New Orleans last week, the officials gave Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber credit for an interception in the end zone even though the replays on the Superdome scoreboard showed the ball hit the ground.
Coach Mike Ditka challenged and referee Ed Hochuli didn't overturn it. Apparently, Hochuli wasn't shown the replay that showed it bounced. Hochuli was called back to the booth to see the right replay, but said that 90 seconds had elapsed.
Ditka said the official in charge of getting the right replays to the official should be fired.
"I think it's a good system but let's use the system properly," Ditka said.
Watching all this with interest from the other sideline was Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy, who's been fined $10,000 this year for complaining about Hochuli's use of instant replay.
"Bad stuff happens. We've got buzzard's luck. Can't kill nothing and nobody's dying."