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Key'd up!

More yap on the flap and the world that is Me-Shawn!

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000


TAMPA -- Some fool let him get away, Al Groh they say, never liked his 'tude.

But he's just as big in Tampa Bay or Hollywood.

The Jets were dissin' him, and wouldn't waste another dime.

Key's ruined New York's state of mind.

Has following the Bucs ever been as much fun during the regular season as it was this week?

Keyshawn Johnson vs. the New York Jets had been juicier than a Bern's porterhouse.

Flashlights. Handshakes. Apologize to Wayne Chrebet? Fahgidahbahdit! Johnson is as bold as a New Yawk tabloid headline. He never lost steam through two press conferences, a national conference call, or tapings with the television alphabet cartel of HBO, CBS, FOX and ESPN. Not to mention his flippant gesture toward CNN-SI. Welcome, snowbirds.

"I had a ball. Me and my family would sit up and watch this stuff on TV at night and just laugh," Johnson said. "It's like a test. We prepared for it and we knew what would happen."

Of course, sometime between Saturday night's pregame dinner with at least 10 of his former Jets teammates in Tampa and Johnson's private post-game party tonight at Club XS, the undefeated Bucs and Jets will play an NFL game at Raymond James Stadium, home of Super Bowl XXXV.

For CBS, it's a trial run for its coverage of the NFL title game, which might draw only a slightly higher rating. That's because Bucs-Jets has more storylines than most Super Bowls.

When Vinny Testaverde's return to Tampa Bay, the scene of his prime, is a sidebar, that's saying something. The prevailing thought before kickoff will be how sad it is that the interviews are over. What? Nobody thought of taping a microphone to Johnson during the game?

Johnson, of course, wishes the game were in New York.

"I love New York fans. I'd like to get booed," Johnson said. "Booooooo!"

Instead, the Bucs will introduce the offense during pre-game ceremonies and Johnson could force a delay of game penalty for how long it takes him to get from the tunnel to the playing field.

According to Johnson, the pressure is all on the Jets. After all, he knows the Bucs are probably the better team and he still is perhaps the most complete receiver in the NFL. What the Jets have to prove is that they can win without Johnson, and that will be difficult against a Bucs defense that has allowed 26 points all season.

"A lot of guys played with me, so they've got a lot to prove to me, I've got nothing to prove against them," Johnson said. "They're trying to prove to me that they don't need me. They're trying to prove to me, that since I'm not there, they're better. "They say it's not affecting them, then it's not affecting them. I didn't put a defensive back in to catch a touchdown. My quarterback didn't go lobby to the coaches. Shaun King ain't going and saying we've got to put John Lynch at wide receiver. That's pretty much on them. It'll basically bring itself out." In a way, Johnson has deflected all of the attention away from his teammates, who will determine the outcome of the game.

And Johnson knows he doesn't have to have two or three touchdown catches to play a large role in beating the Jets. He will affect the game just by the attention he draws from the defense.

"I want the game to be fun, but I obviously want us to win the game," Johnson said. "I expect for us to do well. I don't know how the game will go because obviously I don't have a crystal ball.

"I expect for them to do what they normally do to a top receiver, which means a safety over the top, roll up coverage, bracket you here and there. Put the best corner, probably Aaron Glenn, in the slot instead of the guy who normally plays there.

"I talked to Marcus Allen about going against your former team. He said it was weird. When guys tackled him, he hung out with a lot of defensive players like I do. Once he got tackled by Howie Long, it was like, damn. That was pretty much it. I think it'll be weird."

Johnson keeps closer tabs on what the Jets are doing than the Secret Service does on Chelsea Clinton's date.

"I know every f---- thing that they do," Johnson said. "Ha! They lost more than a football player in me. They lose a personality, a fun-loving person. And I know that. I know because I talk to them every day and they tell me that."

Of course, the New York media is so infatuated with Johnson that they insist he can't live without the bright lights of Times Square. The truth is that the Jets are a boring team to follow without him. Maybe that's why only one reporter from Tampa went to Hamstead, N.Y. to talk to the Jets. Chrebet wouldn't even dress at his locker to avoid the media.

"That's because they're caught up in believing that I believe in the hype. That I'm so sold on New York, the star lights and stuff like that," Johnson said. "That's what they live. They live the lights, they live those things. Remember, I wasn't born and raised in New York. I'm from L.A. They're used to New York and all the glamour and lights and stuff and they immediately assume that's the way I am."

So what would Johnson like the Jets to think when the final horn sounds today?

"Just, damn," Johnson said. "Whatever damn means. Damn we lost. Damn, he's good. Damn, we need him."

TV/Radio:

Ch. 10; WQYK-AM 1010, FM-99.5

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