Sidney Rice walked away from what has been his life and into a new chapter of his life on Wednesday.
Rice, 27, was limited to eight games with the Seahawks last season and nine in 2011 because of injuries that prompted him to start thinking about life after football – a process that led him to announce his retirement after seven NFL seasons.
“I was just thinking about things I’ve been through in the last few years,” said Rice, a big-play wide receiver who signed with the Seahawks in 2011 after playing his first four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. “I’ve hit the ground a number of times. I have quite a few injuries. It’s something I’ve always battled through and came back from.
“But I just figure at this point I have the rest of my life ahead of me and I want to be able to function and do things later down the road.”
Because he spent the end of last season on injured reserve with a knee problem that required surgery, Rice had plenty of time to ponder what’s next. He opened one Wingstop restaurant in Tacoma three weeks ago and has plans to open four others – one at the Renton Landing in three weeks, with more to come in Kent, the Rainier Valley and a to-be-determined site.
“I’m sort of a job creator right now,” he said with a smile. “What got me into the wings? It’s my favorite food. In Minnesota there was no Wingstop. So me and Adrian Peterson, every time we’d have an away game, we’d hop in the car and try to find a Wingstop. So we always talked about opening one.”
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Rice also is dabbling in the tech world by developing aps and establishing Fresh Healthy Vending to provide nutritional alternates for vending machines in schools around his hometown of Gaffney, S.C.
Rice proved to be a bridge player between the team the Seahawks were and have become under coach Pete Carroll. He caught 32 passes for 484 yards and two touchdowns in 2011, when concussions and a shoulder problem forced him to spend the final seven games on IR. In 2012, he started 16 games for the only time in his career and led the Seahawks with 50 receptions, 748 receiving yards and seven TD catches. Last season, Rice caught 15 passes for 231 yards and three TDs before going on IR.
While he won’t be in uniform, Rice plans to remain a part of the Seahawks family while living in the Seattle area.
“I’m going to be around,” he said. “I love it. The state has grown on me, the people. The best fans you could ever hope for. So I’ll be around as much as possible in the locker room with those guys.”
His guys. Rice considered himself the leader of the wide receiver group and has mentored Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, who capped their 2013 seasons by scoring touchdowns in Super Bowl XLVIII. He was teammates with Percy Harvin when both were with the Vikings.
“It’s not something I don’t care about anymore,” Rice said. “It’s just being able to enjoy life down the road as much as I can. But I want to help those guys as much as possible, and while they’re playing help them prepare for their future as much as I can.”
Rice entered the league as a second-round draft choice by the Vikings in 2007 and was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2009 when he caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns.
“I set out as a 6-year old to be a professional athlete,” he said. “I’ve accomplished that goal, and there were so many more things that were amazing along the way. I never dreamed about making the Pro Bowl. I never dreamed about winning the Super Bowl. But those things came along with the dedication. And then there are the people I’ve met along the way.
“It’s just been so good.”
But his most memorable moment from a cut-short career that includes so many memories came last month.
“My favorite would have to be Thursday the 19th – June 19 and getting the (Super Bowl) ring,” Rice said. “That would have to be my favorite moment.”
In part, because it has allowed Rice to leave the game he loves on top and also on his terms.