Jerry Rice might be more closely associated with the San Francisco 49ers, but he also spent most of his final four NFL seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
Rice is keeping close tabs on both of his former teams these days, and he spoke to Yahoo Sports about the state of the now Las Vegas Raiders — and the aftermath of Jon Gruden's resignation after years worth of his offensive emails were uncovered.
Rice couched his comments on Gruden specifically. "I really don’t have a strong reaction to that."
He added: "We all have to move on. It’s not something I condone. ... Everything else is a little crazy now. Now we have to sit back and watch this entire thing unfold."
Reminded that he essentially chose to close out his career (prior to a trade to Seattle in 2004) and go play for Gruden in his twilight, Rice set the record straight on that.
"I got the opportunity to go across the Bay and play for the Silver and Black," Rice said, never mentioning Gruden's name. "I got to play with Tim Brown, which was the icing on the cake for me. I always wanted to play with [Brown].
"Everything else is a little crazy now. Now we have to sit back and watch this entire thing unfold."
So Rice didn't have much to say on Gruden.
But what impressed Rice about this year's version of Raiders, from a football standpoint, is how they responded after a pretty dark week for the franchise. They came out hot in Week 6 against the Denver Broncos, looking "focused and angry," as Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab wrote Sunday, and took care of matters in a 34-24 victory.
The Raiders haven't gone away yet. They're now 4-2 and would be in the postseason as a wild-card team if the playoffs began tomorrow. Vegas plays two teams with losing records — the Eagles and Giants, with a bye in the middle — before the schedule stiffens.
Acing the first post-Gruden test was an important step. Credit goes to interim head coach Rich Bisaccia and the Raiders players for putting the distraction of Gruden's ouster behind them, Rice said, and impressed him with their post-controversy performance.
"They had to [move on]. We all have to move on," Rice said. "... I just feel like it was up to those players to say, ‘Hey, look, we’ve got to put that behind us. The season is not going to wait for us.’ And that’s what they did. They played an exceptional football game."
Raiders' not-so-secret weapon
When the Raiders used a first-round pick on speedy Henry Ruggs III, making him the first wide receiver selected in the 2020 NFL draft, it was seen as a classic move for a franchise that long has revered deep, game-changing speed in its playmakers.
But outside of a few eye-opening moments as a rookie, Ruggs came into this season needing to prove more. He caught only 26 passes and two TDs in 13 games (12 starts), never topping three catches in a single game.
This year, however, has been different. Ruggs overcame a slow start in the season opener against the Ravens to play the best football of his young career since then. Through six games, he's nearly surpassed his rookie-season receiving totals.
Ruggs came up big in the Week 2 win at Pittsburgh with a 61-yard TD in the fourth quarter and helped kickstart the win over the Broncos with a 48-yard TD to cap the Raiders' first drive.
Rice believes the Raiders have a star in the making now.
"Oh, man, yes indeed," he said. "He’s one of those guys that he’s so fast, once the ball is up in the air, it feels like the ball belongs to him. He’s now making those plays. He puts points on the board."
Rice even compared his own early-career struggles with those of Ruggs. It's tough to recall now, but when Rice was a rookie, he faced a slew of "bust" chants from fans. That all changed with one massive Monday night game late in the 1985 season.
"I was dropping footballs during the preseason," Rice said. "It took me a while to get adjusted to the playbook. All that terminology in that offense. But once I got it, and I got to that Monday night game against the Rams, I knew I didn’t have to think anymore. I just played."
Rice sees something similar with Ruggs. Although drops were not a massive issue for Ruggs, he failed to haul in a few catchable deep balls that caused some fans to turn on him and also was beset my some physical ailments.
Gruden appeared to lose trust in Ruggs last season, but the Raiders are now counting on him. Rice credits Ruggs' improved confidence as a big reason why.
"[Quarterback Derek] Carr is really starting to build that chemistry with him," Rice said. "[Ruggs] is going to get better too. His confidence is really rising, and you can tell he’s working his butt off during the week. It’s paying off for him."
Rice helping tackle hunger in America
Rice has teamed up with Quaker Oats, the NFL’s official oatmeal sponsor, on a charity endeavor to assist in tackling hunger around the country. Quaker is making a donation to Feeding America, a group that aims to provide quality nourishment for all.
The program is called “Quaker Good Call Challenge.” Rice is asking people to help with the challenge by filling up a receptacle with any spare change around the house, bringing it to a local Coinstar and making a donation to the cause.
Other former players, including Drew Brees and Jerome Bettis, also are involved in the drive.
“It’s the giving season, man, and the Quaker Good Call Challenge is all about picking up the loose change around your house, putting it in a canister and … helping feed America,” Rice said. “I did not realize that 38 million people in America face hunger. Once I heard about this, I wanted to be on board and be a part of it.”