Jerry Rice does not mean to do it. After all, it’s not about him.
“I just want to go up to the bride and the groom and congratulate them,” Rice said. “Tell them, ‘Today is your day.’”
Those intentions are great and all, but when Jerry Rice crashes a wedding, the story of that wedding becomes, “Uh, Jerry Rice crashed our wedding.”
“For some reason, it always turns out that they are so excited,” Rice said. “They want to take pictures, and I’m just happy to take pictures with them. It always turns out to be bigger than that.”
Rice is the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Many would say that the former San Francisco 49er and Oakland Raider is the greatest player to ever put on football pads and a helmet. He also happens to be a hall-of-fame wedding crasher.
When Larkin and Matt got married last November in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, Matt was starting to get annoyed. Their reception was at a bar, and the bouncers had already approached him twice to ask if strangers were allowed to join the party.
“Then the guy at the door comes a third time and says, ‘You’ve got to come out again,’ and I’m saying, ‘Really?’ So I walked out with him and Jerry Rice is standing there saying, ‘Hey, I’m Jerry,’” Matt said.
Rice took about 20 minutes of photos before heading to the dance floor, where he performed a perfect knees-bent, swaying-side-to-side dance to “Blow the Whistle” by Too $hort. “It was surreal,” Matt said. “You’re thinking, ‘No one is going to believe this.’”
Jennifer Restani and Chris Johnson would.
The pair got married at a golf course in San Ramon, California. After finishing up 18 holes, Rice saw the wedding taking place. (“I pretty much know the wedding schedule at this point,” Rice said.) So he did what he says he always does: He walked over and congratulated everyone.
“It’s so exciting to see their reaction. It’s usually, ‘Oh my god, I never thought I’d run into Jerry Rice on my wedding day,’” Rice said.
And yes, Restani can confirm that is the typical reaction. When Rice approached the wedding, Restani’s maid of honor pulled him into the bridal suite. She proceeded to take a selfie with him and tell him that the groom was a massive 49ers fan. “Surprisingly, he went right to where the men were,” Restani said, “and he hung out with my husband, his groomsmen, ring bearers, and his parents and took some pictures with them.”
The wedding party was excited to say the least.
“The best was when my mother-in-law was kissing Jerry Rice,” Restani said. “My husband went over to his dad and said, ‘Dad, mom is kissing Jerry Rice,’ and his dad just nodded and said ‘It’s OK.’”
If you’re wondering if Rice does this every Saturday and Sunday, he does not. “Sometimes there are weddings on Friday, too,” he said. He estimates that he crashes at least one wedding per weekend.
“I’ve had some brides that start crying,” Rice said. “I tell them, ‘You’re not supposed to be crying for me. Your groom is a different story.’”
Restani said that the wedding planner at their venue has an album full of photos of Rice at various wedding parties. (The venue declined to comment.)
Rice doesn’t know the first time he crashed a wedding, but it started sometime after he retired from the NFL in 2006. “I’ve done it so many times,” he said.
There are two reasons it happens. The first is that he finishes a round of golf at a club or resort where people tend to have weddings. If there’s one happening, as was the case with Restani and Johnson, he’ll always swing by. The second is that he’s on the road for business, and as he did with Larkin and Matt, he happens upon a wedding and decides to see what’s going on.
Rice says he typically doesn’t want to stay long because he doesn’t want to be the focus of the day—but again, he is Jerry Rice, so sometimes someone from the wedding party grabs him and there’s not much of a chance of escape. Or there’s good music.
“If the music is going, I love music. I don’t mind getting out there, dancing, having a good time,” Rice said. “Because I did Dancing with the Stars, people in the weddings want to dance with me because they think I’m some sort of professional dancer.”
Larkin said Rice has a few signature go-to moves—such as the swaying—that make him stand out on the dance floor.
“I don’t mind getting out there and cutting a rug and having fun. It’s my nature,” Rice said. “I love people, and I want everything to be natural. I want to give people a memory.”
As for Rice’s favorite wedding song?
“If I had to pick one, it would be Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You.’ The way she sang it, that song is just something you’ll never forget.”
Not everyone recognizes Rice right away.
“The bride is not always into football, so they might not be up on who I am, and I’m in their bridal suite,” Rice said. “They give me this staredown like who the hell is this guy? But once everything registers, it blows them away.”
Since Rice is typically crashing weddings in the Bay Area, the part of the country in which he’s most famous, someone quickly picks up on it.
“It only takes one person in the room who recognizes me for everything to click,” Rice said. “I’m a little hesitant because I never know what’s going to happen when I walk into the wedding. But usually there’s one person who says, ‘Oh my god,’ and I come over and start taking pictures.”
While Rice seems to become the life of the party, the weddings are always happy with the trade-off.
“Football is my least favorite sport,” Restani said, “but he’s a legend, so I know who he is.”
“My friend Rich, who said he’s never been starstruck in his life, was starstruck by Jerry Rice at our wedding. He was screaming,” Matt said.
“I was on the dance floor when I was told about it,” Larkin said. “And I think I marched over and physically pushed someone out of the way and yelled, ‘I’m the bride!’ so I could meet him once he walked in.”
Larkin, who now follows Rice on social media, sees clips of him dancing and recognizes the moves.
“My mom was trying very, very hard to play it cool,” she said. “She waited until all of the photos were done to go up to him and say she had his jersey. My mom never has anyone’s jersey.”
Restani’s mother-in-law was just as excited.
“She would not let him go,” Restani said. “I’m sure he was embarrassed but went along with it. Mind you, some cocktails had been served prior to the wedding.”
An earlier version of this piece misspelled Jennifer Restani’s name.