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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.

Davis recalls a particularly miserable day during training camp on a scorching afternoon in Rocklin. Davis lined up against Rice, whose responsibility it was to run a simple clearing route.

Rice ran the route at full speed, knowing full well there was no chance the ball would come to him. But because an offensive linemen had committed a penalty, then-offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan demanded a do-over.

"We didn't just move on," Davis said. "We had to do it again. That's just the way we did things."

Again, Rice ran at full speed down the field. But another offensive lineman had jumped the snap count, and Shanahan demanded a repeat of the same play. There was another imperfection the third time.

"Now we're getting at No. 4, and Jerry came back to the huddle yelling at the guys to get it right," Davis said. "He was grumbling and complaining. It was a play he had nothing to do with. He could've just jogged down the field. But he ran all four plays as if he were going for the end zone.

"To him, every snap mattered even when everybody knew the ball wasn't going to come his way. And I had to run with him every one of those plays. That was competition at the highest level."

The late Bill Walsh once said the thing that separated Rice was his ability to work without slowing down. While the first-team offense was resting between practice repetitions, Rice could usually be found running routes off to the side or catching passes.

"There are a lot of hard workers who just peter out," Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young said. "Jerry was a hard worker for 40 years. He outworked everyone. He outworked free agents, even the guys who all they had was work ethic, he outworked them. And he was a star. He rose to every occasion. The bigger the moment, the better he played."

For more on the 49ers, go to Instant 49ers at blog.pressdemocrat.com/49ers. You can reach Staff Writer Matt Maiocco at matt.maiocco@pressdemocrat.com