Accolades not new to Rice
A Google search of "SEC Legends" brings up this information: Ken Rice was a two-time All-American lineman, making several All-America squads in 1959, and then becoming a consensus All-American in 1960. He was voted the SEC's best offensive lineman as a junior and senior and was named the league's top defensive lineman as a senior. He was named to the SEC's All-Sophomore team as a tackle despite playing behind All-SEC selection Cleve Wester in 1958. Rice, a first-round draft pick by both the AFL and NFL, was an All-Pro his rookie year with the Buffalo Bills.
Ken Rice as a tackle for Auburn University
However, Rice's awards do not stop there. He was voted into the Auburn Hall of Fame in 1988, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1989, and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
Ken Rice grew up in Bainbridge in south Georgia where he played football as a kid before entering Bainbridge High School, excelling as a fullback. In 1957, he received a grant-in-aid scholarship to Auburn. "I knew I wanted to coach football after I finished college," he says. "I figured, as much as I played the game, I wouldn't need a phys. ed. degree so I decided to major in speech."
Rice never did coach football but during his career, he earned a level of recognition and celebrity status many coaches never see.
During his four years at Auburn, he says with a bit of a smile, "the Tigers only lost five out of 40 games." Nevertheless, despite the Tigers' good record, the team never played in a bowl game due to probation for recruiting violations. "AU was on probation when I joined the team but was due to come off," he says. "However, due to an additional violation, the team was on probation for a total of five years, including my entire time at Auburn."
Rice was named All SEC each of his four years at Auburn and was elected team captain in 1960. In 1959 and 1960, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan and Perry Como television shows with the rest of the All-American players selected for those years.
During his college years, Rice was an outstanding player and team leader and, years later is still proud to have played ball with such a talented squad. "I was named to the Auburn team of the decade for the 50s and 60s". The Auburn Alumnus was named to the Team of the Century in 1992. The "Ken Rice Award" is given annually to outstanding offensive lineman at Auburn.
Auburn co-ed tackles his heart
Rice had a lot on his plate at Auburn between classes and football practice. He did not expect to meet the love of his life until he was introduced to another Auburn student, Billie Ann Perrin. "I met Billie Ann," he explains, "and we were married in my junior year. My $100-a-month assistance didn't go very far and we didn't have enough money, so I went to work to pay the bills," he says. Somehow, he managed to balance classes, football and construction work and still have time for his new wife.
Even before he graduated from Auburn, Rice's value as a player was obvious to scouts and the management of professional football teams. He was the first draft choice in both the American and National football leagues. In those days, as today, it is unusual for a tackle to be drafted first-that honor usually goes to a back. But, at 250 pounds, Rice was the fastest guy on the Auburn team and a pile-driver of a tackle.
|The coach's All America team in 1960 after appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. Back row (l. to r.) bob Furgerson, Ernie Davis, Ed Sullivan, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Jake Gibbs and Joe Bellio; front row, Danny La Rosa, Bob Lilly, Tom Brown, E.J. Holub, Joe Romig, Ken Rice and Mike Ditka.|
When the Buffalo Bills drafted Rice, he and Billie Ann packed up their belongings and headed from the sunny south to upstate New York. Rice played there for the ‘61, ‘62 and ‘63 seasons, making the All Star team as the outstanding rookie his first year.
In 1964 he was traded to the Oakland Raiders, where he played for Al Davis, the Raiders head coach. Later Davis was named AFL Commissioner. Rice played out his option with Oakland but he had his eye on a new franchise awarded to his home state. "I hoped to be traded to a new team called the Atlanta Falcons," he explains, "but in those days trades between the American and National leagues just didn't happen." He ended up closer to home in a neighboring state.
"So I went to the Dolphins, where I played for the ‘66 and ‘67 seasons until a disc ruptured in my back." He was paralyzed from the waist up with no feeling for a week and spent more than six weeks in traction. The recovery period was slow and took weeks of physical therapy. But, when he finally recovered, he would never play football again.
After years as an invincible and celebrated athlete, receiving recognition, awards and appearing on TV, Rice was out of work and looking for a job. Tom Cousins, a young developer in Atlanta, hired Rice as a project engineer then promoted him to construction loan officer, sending him all over the country on business.
The greatest part of playing football, says Rice, was the friends and associates he met along the way. In Aug 1956, Lloyd Nix and Tommy Lorino-Auburn half backs--were his roommates for two years. They will be there on Dec. 1 along with more than 40 friends from Big Canoe.
After a career that includes playing for Auburn and three professional football teams does Rice have one standout moment?
"Most years, Auburn played Georgia in Columbus but in 1960, our team took on UGA at Auburn. With less than a minute to go, Auburn kicked a field goal for a score of 9 to UGA's 6. When Auburn kicked to Georgia, the UGA kick return player ran the ball up the field. I tackled the player on the eight-yard line with seconds to go and saved the game for Auburn."
|Ken Rice as a Buffalo Bills lineman|
Another unforgettable moment occurred in 1959 when Auburn played Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Tech was up 6-0 when Auburn drove the ball up the field and won in last two minutes. Rice was recognized at National Lineman of the Week for that game.
About the time, Rice lost football he found Big Canoe through his work for Tom Cousins.
"There was only a dirt road through the mountains in 1968," he explains. "What is now the Canoe Lodge was the Tate family's lake house at the time. I was working for Tom Cousins then and he offered our family the use of the lake house for weekends until the surveyors came in to lay out the roads. They lived in the lake house while they were surveying was to become Big Canoe.
At the time Ken and Billie Ann lived in Atlanta where they attended the Presbyterian Church. When Dr.Vernon Broyles retired in 1974, the church decided to build the Broyles a new home and selected Ken Rice as the builder. He has been building homes in Big Canoe ever since.