Ray Rice and I are pretty much the same person.
We both grew up on the mean streets of New Rochelle (albeit, our streets were in slightly different neighborhoods), a suburb about 15 miles north of Manhattan, and a city we both wear on our different sized sleeves. Like Ray Rice, I too am “a generous 5-foot-9,” which is how Kyle Flood, who was the Rutgers offensive line coach while Rice was a member of the Scarlet Knights, and is currently Rutgers’ head coach, describes his former player’s height.
And like Ray Rice, who was taken with the 55th pick in the ’08 NFL Draft, I too have made the long list of employers who passed on my services after I graduated from college feel silly for doing so.
Take away the tree trunks that he has attached to his body in the two spots where most of us have legs, and his ability to see daylight when there is none while smoothly bouncing off of men five inches bigger than him, and what you have is a non-Jewish version of myself.
“I think the thing about Ray, the reason people like him as much as they do, is because he’s so giving when it comes to his time and energy,” Flood says in a phone interview from the Rutgers campus. “If you’re with him, he doesn’t ever give you the feeling that you’re with a celebrity.”
You see, Ray Rice, the two-time Pro Bowl running back from the Baltimore Ravens, is a normal guy from New Rochelle. Just like me.
“He’s an extremely physical runner,” Flood says. “And aside from that, the two things that make him a great runner are his vision and his burst. I don’t know if he’s the fastest back in the NFL, but he’s got great vision, and he can get to his top speed in a hurry. And that ability to change speeds is critical for a running back.”
OK, maybe Rice and I aren’t as similar as I thought. The only time I have vision and burst is during midnight trips to the kitchen in search of a donut. But what Flood is describing to me is why Rice is such a special running back, one worthy of becoming just the fifth player ever to carry the ball more than 200 times and catch a ball more than 60 times in three-straight seasons. These stats take on even more weight in this, the two-back era. Rice is more of your old-school workhorse RB.
But what about Ray Rice, the man? Surely, two guys in their 20s raised just 10 minutes away from each other would share some sort of belief as to how a man should spend the too few, pre-30 post-college years he has.
“I’ve heard Ray say in interviews that when you get to the NFL, football is only half of your job. The other half is giving back to the community,” Flood says. “And that’s something he practices. And to see him recognize the opportunities that he now has to help others out, and take advantage of them—he’s so entrenched in the communities in New Rochelle and Baltimore—and to do all that at such a young age, it’s incredible.”
This comparison was looking a lot better 200 words ago.
“He’s a human bowling ball,” says Darnell Stapleton, a former Pittsburgh Steeler offensive lineman who played with Rice at Rutgers. “And now he’s fast and hard to catch, too. In college, we used to have to take a few extra snaps at the end of drives because of him getting caught from behind. That doesn’t happen anymore.”
So let’s go through this again. The ability to change gears, great vision, breakaway speed, a dedicated community man…Fine. Uncle. I concede. Ray Rice and I are nothing alike.
But you know what? No one, not from New Rochelle, not in the entire NFL, not from anywhere, is like Ray Rice. He is literally one-of-a-kind. Last season, he accumulated more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage for the second straight year. He finished the season with a league-high 2,068 yards from scrimmage—this, despite the fact that every defense he faced came into its matchups with Baltimore with one goal in mind: stop Ray Rice.
Rice can run. He can catch. He’s durable. For three straight years, he has been the heart and soul and legs and hands of the Ravens offense. For three straight seasons, he’s been the only reason the Ravens offense—a unit that, for years, has been holding the rest of the team back—has been able to get to the level of good enough.
And now, at the age of 25, Ray Rice is being rewarded for the football player, and man, that he has become. This off-season, he signed a five-year, $40 million contract extension with the Ravens. Generally, running backs aren’t players that NFL teams like to hand big money to. They tend to break down early, and, very often, wind up being replaced by more than capable mid-round Draft picks. General rules, however, don’t apply to Rice, a running back stronger than most linebackers with better hands than most receivers, and a football star who understands the opportunities that such a label presents.
Ray Rice is worth every penny of that $40 million extension.
If only he and I actually were similar.
Yaron Weitzman is an Associate Editor for TDdaily.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Yaron Weitzman.