"When I talk to students — and I still think of myself more than anything as a kind of professor on leave — they say, ‘Well, how do I get to do what you do?’ ... And I say, ‘Well, you have to start out by being a failed piano major.’ And my point to them is don’t try to have a 10-year plan. Find the next thing that interests you and follow that."Rice says that if she does return to university work, she "fully expects" it will be at Stanford. "The truth of the matter is, I belong west of the Mississippi, and I’ll most likely head back to California." But as Glenn Kessler points out in his biography The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy, "She is not a popular figure on [the Stanford] campus, both because of her stormy tenure as provost and because of a general liberal revulsion at Bush administration policies." And it’s hard to imagine that academia will be enough for Rice. As we talk, she is most animated when she speaks of a possible role in professional sports. "My mother taught Willie Mays," she reminds me twice. "I wouldn’t mind going into sports management at some point. But my latest thing is that I’d like to run a team. I’ve decided that would be more fun." One of her oldest friends, Mary Bush, a former Reagan administration official, echoes the thought: "She loves football. She absolutely loves it." During the 1970s and 1980s Rice dated several football players, including wide receiver Gene Washington, who played for the Detroit Lions and the San Francisco 49ers. For a while there was feverish speculation that Rice might become the commissioner of the National Football League, but that evaporated when NFL executive vice president Roger Goodell was promoted to the top slot in 2006. "My ship came in, and I wasn’t able to get on it," Rice says with a laugh.The wild card is politics. In late 2004, a grassroots Draft Condi movement sprang up to encourage Rice to run for president (and, conservative activists reasoned, provide a powerful rejoinder to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy). So would she consider running for office? "That’s really hard for me to imagine," Rice says. "I have been around politics now a lot. I have to say I’m really enjoying not being a part of a campaign in 2008." What about vice president? The Republican rumor mill often places her as the running mate to John McCain; as provost at Stanford and Bush’s better half in the Middle East, Rice has always been comfortable playing second fiddle. At a press conference in February, reporters raised the idea of such a dream team, but Rice dismissed it: "I’ve said all along what I’m going to do. You can all come and visit me in California." It’s probably best to take Rice at her word. Mary Bush says her friend is determined to take time away from "center-of-the-world jobs," perhaps to write a book about foreign policy. And Scowcroft remembers a time in the Bush 41 administration when Rice vetoed his plea that she remain in Washington because she had promised to return to Stanford after two years. "Surely you mean to stay?" he asked incredulously. "No," she told him. "I said two years."Beneath the SurfaceIn an interview with People magazine in December 2006, Laura Bush speculated that Rice would not want to run for president: "Probably because she is single, her parents are no longer living, she’s an only child. You need a very supportive family and supportive friends to have this job."I make the same point to Rice and ask her whom she leans on. "I have very strong extended family," she answers, "a lot of very close friends and, of course, faith, which is very important. I’m not someone who is cut off from people…. Though I am an only child and sometimes, when I’m around people too much, I have to have one night alone, you know." When I ask Washington why it didn’t work out between the two of them, he corrects me. "I think it has worked out," he says. "We’re great friends. I don’t mean this in a disparaging way, but for a male and female to be great friends for 20 years, I think that’s pretty impressive."Rice’s single status has long been a source of fascination for some; rumors that she is gay have occasionally been reported in newspapers and on the Internet. "I quite like men," she told Elisabeth Bumiller, author of Condoleezza Rice: An American Life.