St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Shining moment not just about stars

Plenty of characters make up the cast of the Super Bowl champions.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2003


SAN DIEGO -- All those brutal two-a-days in the summer heat now seem like cheap sacrifices.

All those bruised body parts, rendered more and more painful with the passing seasons, now seem miraculously healed.

The moments of disappointment and despair? Now they seem washed away in the splendor of a San Diego night.

It will be written that coach Jon Gruden led the Buccaneers to their first championship with a 48-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. But in Tampa Bay folklore, it will be about much more.

It will be about receiver Joe Jurevicius, a free agent who joined the team this offseason, playing with a worried soul and a gladiator's heart. While 2-week-old son Michael battled in a Tampa hospital with complications after a premature birth, Jurevicius waged war against the Raiders secondary.

He finished with four catches for 78 yards and did the one thing he has done all season: inject a jolt of attitude into the offense.

"I'm still trying to get hold of my wife (Meagan)," Jurevicius said. "I want to say hello to her and let her know how special a night this is and share it with her. Football has been a distraction for me the past few weeks, but family always comes first."

It will be about linebacker Derrick Brooks and defensive tackle Warren Sapp, two Floridians, two friends, one quest.

"It really has come full-circle for me and Brooks," Sapp said. "We made the turnaround right here in San Diego."

Brooks and Sapp were in San Diego in 1996 when a pact was made to change the fortunes of a franchise considered the NFL's laughingstock.

At a time when the Bucs were the Yucs, Brooks and Sapp pledged to reverse the public embarrassment. It took 111 games, two head coaches, two appearances in the NFC Championship Game to get there.

"Today, it means we've come full-circle," Brooks said. "From the laughingstock of the league to the world champions. Before this week, I never thought about San Diego and when it all started, but it all came back to me."

It also will be about quarterback Brad Johnson, an 11-year veteran maligned by some, released by others and questioned by many.

Johnson has insisted a quarterback be judged not by the numbers or Pro Bowls but by his ability to manage a game and finish that game with one more point than the opposing team.

Sunday, the Bucs blew away the Raiders by 27 points, but Johnson proved that quarterbacking is more than gunslinging and fancy footwork. The product of Black Mountain, N.C., was 18-of-34 for 215 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

In victories over the Packers (21-7), the Falcons (34-10) and the 49ers (31-6), Johnson, with the help of his defense, outplayed Brett Favre, Michael Vick and Jeff Garcia respectively.

Sunday he did it to league MVP Rich Gannon.

"It seems like every year, from middle school on, I'm slow, I don't have enough arm," Johnson said. "I'm used to it. But for now, what I have, I know those people back in Black Mountain are happy for me and there'll be a lot of people celebrating tonight."

And there will be more.

There will be stories of center Jeff Christy and safety John Lynch, 10-year veterans who know time is closing in. And memories of left tackle Lomas Brown, who took 16 seasons to get to the Super Bowl, but 18 seasons to win a ring.

"It's like my career is the rock," Christy said. "They said I was too old, too small, too slow. I don't care what they say right now."

There also will be a place in the legend for veteran Keenan McCardell, who earned a ring 11 years ago with the Redskins, although he spent the season on the injured reserve list. McCardell, who joined the Bucs late in the summer, turned two catches against the Raiders into two touchdowns and validated his first ring.

"It validates it," McCardell said. "I came out of that tunnel and now I know what Art Monk felt like, what Jerry Rice felt like ... all those guys. It's unbelievable. I'm so happy now. I'm trying to keep cool but I know I will probably get back to my room, then I will probably break down in tears."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.