Jerry Rice had just completed his rookie season with the 49ers when running back Roger Craig invited him to tag along on a routine conditioning run up "The Hill," above Edgewood Park in San Carlos.
"I took him up the hill, and he ran it," Craig said. "And we didn't see him again for another three weeks. He disappeared.
"He put up great numbers as a rookie. This kid had potential, but it was very important for him to begin working out early in the offseason to get ready for the next year. So I tracked him down. When he came back and ran it, he never looked back after that."
Rice and Craig are among 17 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The 2010 class of enshrinees, from four to seven individuals, will be announced today at 2 p.m.
Former Raiders receiver Tim Brown is also a first-time finalist, along with Rice, Craig and former 49ers pass-rush specialist Charles Haley.
Craig was the first player in NFL history to record 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season (1985). Marshall Faulk is the only other player who has achieved that milestone. Craig was the NFL's offensive player of the year in 1988, and named to the NFL's all-decade team of the 1980s.
"He was such a good runner, but he also ran great routes," Joe Montana said. "You could do more things on offense because of Roger. You didn't have to substitute. He could run routes like a receiver, so if we wanted to keep the nickel defense off the field, we could do that all because of Roger. He was way ahead of his time."
Haley was a key member of five Super Bowl-winning teams with the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. He is one of just five defensive players on the list of finalists. Rickey Jackson, who spent the 1994 and '95 seasons with the 49ers after a long career with the New Orleans Saints, is also on the list.
Rice and running back Emmitt Smith are virtually assured of being elected into the Hall of Fame. Rice is the leader of virtually every significant receiving record in NFL history. But the thing that set him apart was his maniacal workout habits and attention to detail.
Cornerback Eric Davis covered Rice nearly every day of training camp for the six seasons they were 49ers teammates. He said Rice had a singular focus to strive for perfection. He never took a play off — even in practice when he was not involved in the play.