REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- Jerry Rice, the San Francisco 49ers wide receiver who set two NFL reception records and scored 23 touchdowns this season, was named Friday United Press International's NFC Offensive Player of the Year.
'It's a great honor,' said Rice. 'It's something I'll always remember. But I can't think too much about it right now. I'm concentrating on winning Saturday and getting to the Super Bowl.'
Rice gathered 38 of the 42 votes cast by football writers from around the country. Rice's only competition for the award came from 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, who received the remaining 3 votes.
The third-year player out of tiny Mississippi Valley College evolved into a dominating force in the NFC this season. He caught 65 passes for 1,078 yards and 22 touchdowns despite missing three games because of the NFL players strike. He scored another touchdown on an end-around.
Rice shattered the NFL record of 18 touchdown receptions set by Miami's Mark Clayton in 1984 and ran his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown catch to 13, breaking another league mark.
'He may be the most dominating player in the game today,' said San Francisco Coach Bill Walsh. 'He's developed into a tremendous extension of our team. He has the ability to get the ball in the end zone.'
The award was just one of many given Rice this season. He was the only unanimous choice by the NFL players to the annual Pro Bowl and was voted the Len Eshmont award for inspiration and courage by his teammates.
Two years ago, Rice was named UPI's NFC Rookie of the Year.
'I came here with a good work ethic,' he said. 'I just go out and try to prepare myself every day on the football field. I just don't feel right going out and relaxing one day. I have to work at it every day.'
Rice was selected by the 49ers late in the first round of the 1985 draft after a number of teams were scared away by his lack of speed. But Walsh was aware of Rice's explosiveness as he closes in on the ball.
'Both Jerry and I are the same kind of player,' said Minnesota's Anthony Carter. 'A lot of people don't think we have good speed, but once the ball is in the air, we are able to get to it.'
Rice was the target of fans during his rookie season for dropping seemingly easy touchdown catches.
'You go out and work hard and have faith in yourself,' he said of the difficult season. 'Things might not be good at first, but you can't get down on yourself. I kept my head up and everything fell into place.'
Rice has also proven himself to be a bruising downfield blocker.
'Blocking is very important to me,' he said. 'If I'm able to make a big block, Roger (Craig) or (Tom) Rathman can make a big run. The most important thing to me is that the 49ers win.'