There’s a popular belief—backed up by countless songs and YouTube videos—that all athletes want to be rappers and all rappers want to be athletes. It’s true: The worlds of sport and hip-hop often collide. And during the late ’90s and early ’00s, football jerseys were the norm in urban fashion. You couldn’t turn on MTV or BET without seeing the biggest rap entertainers in the world smothering your television screen with classic Mitchell and Ness throwbacks or unis from the NFL’s most popular players of the era. With that in mind, TDdaily will break down one such video per week, as part of our #ThrowbackJerseyThursday series.
Back in 1997, a much more rugged Jay-Z dropped his In My Lifetime Vol. 1 album, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts and helped the Brooklyn MC build the momentum that propelled Roc-A-Fella Records to the top of the music world. Off the strength of the album, Hov dropped a video for the oft-overlooked but undeniably classic record “Where I’m From.”
In the visual, Hov takes us back to the corner he grew up on, providing one of the more raw and grimy videos of the ’90s. Look a bit closer, and you’ll notice the MC is rocking a Simeon Rice Arizona Cardinals jersey—a seemingly random, arbitrary fashion choice.
But in truth, Hov’s decision to wear the reigning Rookie of the Year’s jersey made perfect sense.
The two had parallel career paths: Both grew up in some of the worst neighborhoods in the country (Jay in the Marcy projects of Brooklyn; Rice on the south side of Chicago), both used their otherworldly talents to rise up the ranks, and both were on the fast track to stardom due to their hustle and hard work.
For the inaugural edition of #ThrowbackJerseyThursday, TDdaily caught up with Simeon Rice to discuss his reaction to seeing Jay-Z wearing his name on his back, his NFL career and the moves he has made since retirement.
TD: How did it feel to see him wearing your jersey in the “Where I’m From” video?
SR: Back in the day, it was cool. He was relevant, he was doing his thing on the music front as a pioneer. It was landscape rap right after Biggie and Tupac had their situation with the “East Coast – West Coast” thing and Jay was emerging into his own. At that point in time, I was Rookie of the Year and I felt like at that point in my life he was honoring me in terms of knowing who the ballers were, knowing who the guys were in the league with talent. Starting out in my career, it was cool and I was honored by him rocking my jersey in the video. That was like him paying homage to someone.
TD: Did that catch you by surprise at all? You were playing for the Cardinals, did you even think you were on his radar?
SR: I mean, I was balling! I was Rookie of the Year, you couldn’t get any bigger than I was as a rookie in the NFL at that time. I set the rookie sack record and a few other records as well. You can only be so humbled by it, in the same vein I was coming to an understanding that that’s where sports was going at the time and especially in my life. The reach I was having from nationally televised games and whatever I was doing was under the lights and the glitz and glamour of the NFL.
I was honored by it more than anything. It could have been anyone rocking my jersey and I would have stopped and said, “Damn, that’s a good look”. When people go out of their way to put your name on their back and they rock your jersey number that gives you that thumbs up or that eye wink that you’ve done good work.
It was cool how to see my friends react to that, at that time in my life, that was the world we were in. Starting record labels and trying to be little moguls and things like that outside of the NFL and playing football. For the guys that were representing me in terms of the street life, it was even more exciting for them. I liked the music and I was obviously into the culture but it meant so much more to friends of mine who were rappers and things of that nature.
TD: Did you ever get a chance to talk to Jay about it?
SR: Nah, I didn’t. It wouldn’t really be anything to talk about though, you know what I mean? You know what it is when someone’s rocking your jersey, it’s like buying someone’s album—you find their work pleasing or respectable. I’m not a star-struck type of individual to be honest with you. I had his record, I had his CD and I was and am a fan of his work.
TD: You had an illustrious playing career, is there any moment that sticks out more than the others?
SR: Not really. It was a movement for me. I was ushering in a whole new genre of athlete and defensive end that was similar to the Jason Taylors and Jevon Kearses. I was the first hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end, people felt like I was too small at 260 to play defensive end. Now it’s the norm. Now you see everyone looking for a speed rusher. The biggest thing that really stands out now that I think about it, is the way my performance impacted winning and helped a team essentially get to a Super Bowl. Every year was a highlight and a special moment. Every year I went into the season—even in Arizona—I truly believed that we could get to a Super Bowl. Every defense I ever played on was looked upon as the best defense in the NFL. I was so well prepared for every game and locked in and learned from every coach from Rod Marinelli to Tony Dungy. Being able to take everything in the same way and go about a season professionally and the way you’re supposed to go through a season and have an optimistic outlook and being able to think anything is possible and doing everything possible to prepare for that.
TD: You were an athletic, hybrid defensive end, you’re seeing a lot of that with guys like Jason Pierre-Paul and Julius Peppers today. Do you feel like you helped usher that trend in?
SR: Hell yeah! There was none of that before me. Guys that played my position were 280-290, there were some [hybrid defensive ends], but they didn’t make it noteworthy. When I came in, I made it noteworthy with my speed off the edge and running 4.4. 40s, having that whole sprinter’s background and putting that all on the football field and being able to play in a dynamic, aggressive and ballistic way and doing all the things I needed to do.
The closest thing to me was Lawrence Taylor, who was a standup guy who obviously impacted the game. When I came into the game, those comparisons between myself and LT were going on and by putting my hand in the dirt, I made the decision where I was going to play my game. I was going to play off the edge, in the trench as a defensive end. Being able to play the run and the pass and being able to play the game with leverage and still impact the game in a very dynamic way with speed and letting that be my calling card.
The way people remember me is for playmaking, a lot like Lawrence Taylor, Bruce Smith and Reggie White. The NFL really doesn’t mention guys like us much because when you start with football, you talk about offense and the quarterback. These guys were the best of the best at what they did and I hallmark myself and put myself in that class of special talent that played in the NFL. I brought a certain expertise to defense that was able to climb the heights and be number one, All-Pro and win Super Bowls—it was a good time.
TD: Can you talk about your Super Bowl season a little bit? Was there a different aura around the team heading into the team? Did you guys know you were going to be that good?
SR: We knew we were that good the year prior. We ran into a buzzsaw in Philadelphia in the Playoffs in cold weather and we couldn’t make it out. We knew we were getting better. We felt like after bringing in Jon Gruden we were going to get better automatically offensively. We felt like we were there already defensively. Our team was great the year prior with Tony Dungy then we brought in this offensive mind in Jon Gruden to really take our team to the next level. We responded in the right moments offensively and the performance we got from us defensively…we were just the best of the best. I mean, come on, it was like having Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan playing together on the D-Line. You had me and Warren Sapp upfront. Me and Warren Sapp on the same line!
Before I got to Tampa, I didn’t think that was possible—I didn’t think the NFL would let that go down! We got the two best defensive linemen on the same line. Not only that, we had Derrick Brooks as an outside backer. Outside of Derrick Brooks, who else is there? Our free safety is John Lynch. Who was better? Defensively, we knew we were that deal. Our defense was an offense, we scored points. Coming into the pre-season when we couldn’t score and all we did was turn the ball over, I mean, imagine that. I think that Super Bowl year, I think I had 11 turnovers myself. We had Brian Kelly who had 9 interceptions, that’s a lot of turnoves on the defensive side of the ball and Brian Kelly didn’t even make the Pro Bowl!
I think the greatest defense that ever played was the ‘85 Bears—I’m from Chicago. I think we were one of the Top-3 defenses of all time, outside of us and ‘00 Baltimore there was nothing like us on defense. In the Super Bowl, our defense scored 28 points, that right there shows you what type of level we were on and how unstoppable we were. That year, I knew no one in the League could block me. Me and Warren clicked that year, we just did our thing.
TD: What are you up to these days as far as post-football ventures? You have a film company?
SR: Dreamline Pictures. I went to film school, graduated and released a comedy called When I Was King which is out right now. I sold a HBO TV series that I created and I’m a producer on that along with Doug Ellin, who created Entourage. It looks like they’re going into production with that which is going real well. Now I’m working on another full feature that I should be shooting in November called Pray which is an action thriller. I’m finishing up the script on that now. I started out trying to make my dreams come true envisioning myself as a football player. Now I’m trying to strike lightning twice with film and take the dreams that I see in my head come true and have people see them on the silver screen.