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Keyshawn needs to shine -- and soon


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 17, 2000

To hear him self-aggrandize, you'd think U.S. 19 would be Keyshawn's apt nickname.

A great American hero, he suggests. Johnson pontifications tell us No.19 thinks he's in Jerry Rice's league.

Key doesn't back it up.

First, let us see No.19 show he's even close to the contemporary plateau of Randy Moss, Isaac Bruce or Herman Moore. Thursday night against Detroit would a prime time for Johnson to put a tourniquet on his Bucs mediocrity.

Tampa Bay whispers are getting louder. A community beginning to worry that Keyshawn, with his hot reputation, could become the latest painful dose of Harper-Emanuel Syndrome. With the Bucs, Alvin and Bert had trouble catching a cold. Is that your nose running, No.19? Or your mouth?

It's still early, but

Johnson's physical abilities and mental desire may soon be generating big catches, many touchdowns and dynamic victories. So, can we hold off mentioning No.19 in the same gasping breath with Alvin Harper and Bert Emanuel? Unless a perpetuation of Keyshawn's low-voltage numbers fuels such an odious theme.

You wonder, is No.19 just a classic New York bamboozle? Overexposed. Oversold. Product of a town where things are so easily magnified, even grossly exaggerated. Where a half-carat nugget, after a wealth of New York discussion, can begin to look like the Hope Diamond.

When anything happens within sight of the World Trade Center, worldly perspective can become a beast that can't be harnessed. For this week's indication, check the pulse rates of New York and a nation it so demonstratively influences. A baseball Subway Series moves toward reality, which could make Mets-Yanks appear as the only story on earth.

Keyshawn knows such impact.

New York is the communications capital of a far-flung, easily influenced republic. Say it there and it's heard almost everywhere. Even believed. NYC is home base to ABC, CBS, NBC and the planet's most powerful wire service, AP.

Wall Street power.

Huge corporate clout.

So mesmerized were we, in far-off Florida, by the New York portfolio of No.19. It seemed so explosive, so charming, so remarkable, such an NFL coup, when such a Broadway star came to play Tampa's proud, little Dale Mabry stage.

Imagining ... championship Kismet.

All along, since the Keyshawn move, something has been clanging in my mind. Even as I hoped he would immediately bring grins and ego pumps for my neighbors who so identify with the Bucs.

About that clanging: It was me remembering a 49ers thought process involving wide receivers. During a grand San Francisco run, covering 15 years and the winning of five Super Bowls, there was a stout philosophy regarding wide receivers.

Company policy mandated that the 49ers spend no No.1 choices on wideouts in the college draft. Also, that they never invest heavily to bring in an established NFL wide receiver. Thinking was, you're just as likely to find splendid talent in the middle rounds, where the shopping is less risky and cheaper.

Rice was the exception. So dynamic was Jerry at tiny Mississippi Valley State, it was the one time Bill Walsh put the coaching hammer down, breaking the Niners rule on wideouts. That one has worked so beautifully that Rice's run will come to a bronzed ending at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Keyshawn has a burden of proof, to show he's not cut from the same stiff cardboard as Harper and Emanuel. To get going, Johnson at least needs to make one 2000 catch that is as vital as the Bucs-beater by Wayne Chrebet.

Oh, that stings.

Nineteen, he's a bright fellow. Even the Johnson eyes are exciting. Keyshawn is as tough as the South Central streets where he grew up in Los Angeles. Far more observant than your average pro athlete. Abundant with curiosity, a quality that has become too rare.

Just think how Tampa Bay attitudes on No.19 will change if, Thursday night against the Lions, a rival the Bucs manhandled in September at the Silverdome, the mouthy bloke from New York brightens the night by catching eight or nine footballs, gaining 100-plus yards, scoring at least two touchdowns, and triggering a win that is desperately needed.

It's time for Keyshawn to put up. If not, to shut up. Manage the challenges but also manage the tongue. Enough of the New York gab. Strike a match, No.19, so we'll know for sure the Keyshawn skills burn at least as bright as those of a flashlight.

It's not just a 3-3 record that nags, it's how the Bucs got there. They were 5 minutes from being 4-0 when a bombay door sprung open, leading to Tampa Bay death leaps against the Jets, Redskins and Vikings.

Tampa Bay really, really, really needs another success against the Lions. If not, imagine what on-the-street banter will become. Believe it, Keyshawn, when I tell you that, when a pro sports team inadequately delivers, New York has no exclusivity on nastiness.

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