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Super Bowl XXXVII

Going on inspiration

The Bucs' Joe Jurevicius has put his heart in two places: with his struggling newborn son and in the game of his life.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2003

SAN DIEGO -- Long before learning his infant son had taken his first look at the world, it was Joe Jurevicius' eyes that were opened.

While his Bucs teammates were participating in Media Day at Super Bowl XXXVII on Tuesday, Jurevicius was with his wife, Meagan, at a Tampa hospital. He was saying goodbye to their 9-day-old son, Michael William, who was recovering from heart surgery in the neonatal intensive care unit.

When Jurevicius arrived six hours later in San Diego, he immediately checked his cell phone for messages and heard the voice of his excited wife on the other end.

"My wife said he opened his eyes last night and I just hated to miss that," Jurevicius said. "She rubbed it in a little. My next battle is for him to say, 'Dad' before he says, 'Mom.'

"He'd been under sedation. I feel it's a great sign that he's getting better. You take every sign as a positive."

Staying positive is what has allowed Jurevicius to ride the roller coaster of emotions surrounding his family and football.

He went from the elation of becoming a first-time father Jan. 14, to fear upon learning his son had serious health complications after being born prematurely.

The Bucs receiver slept for nearly a week in a hospital bed next to his wife and son and did not practice with the team, arriving in Philadelphia Saturday for the NFC Championship Game.

After receiving assurances on the telephone that Michael William's condition was stable, Jurevicius played a key role in the Bucs' 27-10 win over the Eagles, catching a 71-yard pass that set up Tampa Bay's first touchdown.

"If I didn't have anything to contribute in that game, I wouldn't have showed up," Jurevicius said. "There was a point last week where I didn't know if I was going to play. My emotions were being tormented. I didn't know how things were going to delegate themselves. But my family pushed me out the door and if they felt comfortable enough for me to leave, I felt comfortable to make a play or do something in that game."

Now he is back with the Bucs again, trying to help his team win its first Super Bowl.

"For one, I feel bad I'm leaving my family, but it is my last week of work," Jurevicius said. "So that's in the back of my mind and it is refreshing knowing this is the last week of work and next week I can be there 24-7. But having a newborn son and having to leave him is hard. I feel bad for my wife because she can't come out here. She's still recovering from the surgery and needs to be with our son right now. It's difficult, but there's some greater picture. I don't know what it is. There is a greater meaning behind this. Our family is a tough family and we are going to handle it well. Hopefully, when we head back Monday we'll have something to celebrate."

Although he's the third receiver behind Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell, Jurevicius figures to be a big part of the game plan against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

In two playoff games, Jurevicius has four catches for 119 yards and one touchdown.

And Bucs teammates have marveled at Jurevicius' ability to deliver for his family and his football team.

"Joe is a guy that's been overlooked, period," Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice said. "This guy's come on so strong for us, he's probably at this point one of our best players on offense, if not the best. He got us going against Philly. The catch, the big run, all that. And at this point I know Joe wants his respect. He has a lot of different reasons that he's playing with an inspiration because he's got the situation with his family. And he's definitely one of the guys we're leaning on."

Jurevicius said his inspiration comes from Michael William, whom he has held only once for a few minutes after he was born. Since then, his son has been on a respirator and connected to a web of tubes and monitors helping to sustain his life.

"It's tough. Whether it's my kid or somebody else's you don't like to see that," Jurevicius said. "When you picture a baby, you picture them being held and tickled and whatever else comes along with being an infant. But I don't like seeing this with anybody's kid, let alone mine. Having tubes in him and monitors on him, that's a very tough thing to take. But now that I know that he is fighting and those tubes are helping him, I'm so grateful right now.

"He looks like a great athlete. He looks like me. He has big feet like me. He has big hands, which he takes after me. Like every newborn, he's cute, so he gets that from his mom."

Jurevicius had to beat his wife at backgammon in order to win a bet and discover that the couple's first child was a boy. "She had beaten me something like 1,000 times in a row before that," Jurevicius said.

On Wednesday in front of a throng of reporters, Jurevicius talked about how confident he was that his son would beat the odds.

"I think some people look at football players as just football players and they don't get to see the human side," Jurevicius said. "So this may be a way for some people to connect in the way they haven't been able to."

Jurevicius will connect with his son on Super Bowl Sunday. He plans to wear his own hospital bracelet with Michael's name on it on his wrist during the game.

"One day he's better, one hour he's fine, next hour something needs to be done," Jurevicius said. "You're scared at all points. But I think the kid's a fighter, and I'm proud of him for that. He's finally turning the corner and that's all you can ask for. He's a fighter, he's an inspiration, and now I have work to do."

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