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Friday, October 29, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Greg Bishop
KIRKLAND Apparently, the Seahawks' newest No. 80 didn't initiate No. 80-gate after all.
Jerry Rice said yesterday that he didn't come to Seattle intent on wearing the most sacred jersey number in team history, that he didn't ask the Seahawks for Steve Largent's retired No. 80 and that he didn't initiate contact with Largent.
His wife, Jackie, also called the San Jose Mercury News, saying her husband was misunderstood in the wake of the jersey controversy. Football pundits and fans alike ripped Rice in newspapers, on message boards and on national television, assuming that he intended to wear his and Largent's longtime number all along.
The Rices said the Seahawks wanted Jerry to wear the number and that the team first called Largent on his behalf.
"I hate for Jerry to be blamed for this," Jackie told the newspaper. "It's unfair."
Rice didn't seem terribly concerned with the reaction, noting his relationship with Largent and saying he doesn't read newspapers or watch much television. But he did confirm the circumstances surrounding his controversial jersey acquisition.
"That's true," Rice said. "The thing is: You can't control that. I was coming in, and we were going to try and sort through and get something else. When I got here, the second I got in the door, Steve Largent wanted me to call him. I couldn't say no to him. So ... "
Jackie's version of the story, as told to the Mercury News, goes like this: Rice arrived in Seattle not knowing what jersey he would wear. Seahawks officials told him their idea: No. 80. Team president Bob Whitsitt told Rice that Largent wanted him to call. Whitsitt called Largent and handed the phone to Rice. They talked like old friends and Largent consented, warning Rice there could be backlash.
Rice still wasn't sure, even when he held up the No. 80 jersey with his name on the back at his initial news conference. He ended up keeping the number, Largent publicly supported the idea and the issue appeared settled to Rice, to Largent and to the Seahawks.
Or so they thought ...
"I haven't really heard anything," Rice said. "I might get some boos. The thing about that, though, because of what (Largent) did, he really showed me what this game is all about. If somewhere down the road that should happen with me, I'm going to do the same thing. Because of him."
In an unrelated move, the Seahawks made a No. 80 Largent retro jersey available for purchase for $130. There is also a plan to unveil a Largent statue in front of Qwest Field sometime in the near future. And Rice is donating $80 per catch to the Pete Gross House in Largent's name, an amount the Seahawks will match.
Whitsitt was traveling yesterday and unavailable for comment.
Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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