Sidney Rice got out in time.
At the age of 27, the former South Carolina receiver walked away from a seven-year NFL career that was hampered by knee and hip injuries – as well as several concussions.
He had experienced success on the field. He was financially set. He didn’t want to take a risk with the rest of his life.
“I am not upset that it ended early. I had a wonderful time, a great time. I did everything in my power to stay healthy and stay out on the field,” Rice said. “It’s a part of the game, and for me I was becoming more conscious of the other risks that come with playing football and having a certain amount of concussions. At some point you realize that some people get away in time, and some people don’t.
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“You see all of the stories of the CTE brain injuries and things like,” he said. “It just wasn’t worth risking my health and not being able to live a healthy life later.”
Getting out early has enabled Rice, 30, to help others. He works with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to help provide hearing aids for children in poorer countries. He has taken trips to Madagascar and Sri Lanka.
“The first time was a huge shock for me. I flew 18 hours around the world. This country had just finished a civil war,” Rice said. “Being able to see their mother tell them, ‘I love you,’ for the first time and them actually hear it, or for them to experience sound for the first time was very touching, especially when they lost their hearing as little kids from bombs that were going off from the war.”
Rice, among the nine who will be inducted into the South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame on Thursday, also is giving back to his hometown of Gaffney, said the school’s assistant basketball coach, Phillip McHam, who grew up playing sports with Rice and remains a close friend.
“He’s providing for his community. He’s done what he’s supposed to do. He’s always been a giving person. He’s always felt that the more he gives the more God will bless him,” McHam said.
Rice won state titles in football and basketball at Gaffney High.
“He had as big a desire to win as anybody I’ve ever coached. Sidney wasn’t going to let you lose. You look at everywhere he’s been, they’ve won,” Gaffney basketball coach Mark Huff said. “We were successful at Gaffney High, South Carolina was successful, they were one win away from going to the Super Bowl in Minnesota, Seattle won a Super Bowl. He was always around a winner.”
Rice led the Gamecocks to bowl games in back-to-back seasons and finished his USC career with 142 catches for 2,233 yards and 23 touchdowns. Rice is tied with Alshon Jeffery for USC’s career record for receiving touchdowns and ranks eighth in catches and fifth in yards, despite only playing two seasons for the Gamecocks.
“Sidney was a really talented player. Obviously, he proved it in the NFL,” former USC coach Steve Spurrier said. “He had an excellent career, and I hope he’s doing well.”
Rice turned pro after his redshirt sophomore year at USC and was drafted by the Vikings in the second round of the 2007 NFL draft. He played four seasons in Minnesota and three in Seattle.
Four of the seven teams Rice played on advanced to the playoffs, including the Super Bowl XLVIII champion Seattle Seahawks. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2009.
Rice finished his business degree at Miami not long after retiring and ventured out into a different type of competitive world.
He owns five Wingstop restaurants in the Seattle area, as well as a coffee shop, and also has dealings in real estate and with a technology company.
“I’m pretty much dabbling in everything,” he said.
Rice also likes to travel.
“I’m grateful for absolutely everything I have, and being able to travel to these different places and seeing what other people experience or their perspective on life, which is totally different from mine, it grounds me,” Rice said. “It lets me know I’m the same as these people. I was in the same situation before and didn’t know anything else, but that’s what makes me want to get out and see the world. It’s a beautiful place, so many beautiful things to see, beautiful people. I think that’s what it’s all about.”
Gaffney’s McHam was recently on South Carolina’s campus to visit Gamecocks running back Rico Dowdle, who grew up in Gaffney before moving to Asheville.
He visited USC’s indoor practice facility, which features a picture of Rice on the wall.
“I took a picture of it and when he came home I showed it to him, and that lit him up a little bit seeing that he’s in the indoor facility,” McHam said.
Rice will likely be beaming again Thursday when he is inducted into the USC Hall and delivers his speech, making another memory at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“It was nothing that I was expecting at all. It came out of left field,” Rice said of his selection. “It made me reflect on growing up here in South Carolina. The first pictures I can remember as a little boy, going back now I still look at them, and I’ve got on a Carolina Gamecocks T-shirt. It was a super exciting time for me. I’m very grateful and happy to be a part of South Carolina history.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been in the stadium,” he said. “I’m excited to hear that rooster do his thing. I’m excited for the guys, a fresh start. The program is still building, but I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Sidney Rice bio
High school: Gaffney, where he won state titles in football and basketball.
In two seasons at USC, he caught 23 TD passes, which includes a school-record 5 in one game.
Played seven season, four with Vikings and three with Seahawks, catching 243 passes for 3,592 yards and 30 TDs.
He owns five Wingstop restaurants in the Seattle area and has interests in real estate and technology.
USC Hall of Fame
What: USC Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony
Where: The Zone at Williams-Brice Stadium
For more info: Contact Shelley Leavitt at 803-777-2961
Inductees: Ryan Bordenick, Shonda Cole, Bo Davies, Jimmy Mitchell, Sidney Rice, David Seawell, Justin Smoak, Jim Carlen and Billy Laval.
Also: The inductees will be recognized during the USC-UMass game.