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NFC PLAYOFFS CHAMPIONSHIP | TAMPA BAY-PHILADELPHIA
REPORT

Jurevicius Taking Ride of a Lifetime

January 20, 2003|Diane Pucin; J.A. Adande | From Staff Reports

PHILADELPHIA — The baby boy wasn't due for at least three more weeks and when Michael William Jurevicius was born Tuesday, weighing 6 pounds 1 ounce and struggling with his health, Tampa Bay Buccaneer receiver Joe Jurevicius went to his coach, Jon Gruden, and talked.

"I've got three boys. It was an emotional meeting that we had," Gruden said. "I tip my hat to Joe, and I certainly pray for his wife and family. When you have a child that is born prematurely and does not look healthy, it puts things in perspective.

"We gave Joe the flexibility and the freedom for him to do what he felt was right. And for him to come up here Saturday afternoon, in spite of all that's happened, and deliver clutch plays, that tells you the kind of man you're talking about."

Jurevicius, 28, caught only one pass. But it was for 71 yards and it set up Tampa Bay's first touchdown, a first-quarter score that silenced the Veterans Stadium crowd.

"I've been at my highest this week, and I've been at my lowest and now I'm back at the highest," an emotional Jurevicius said after the game.

As this season had progressed for the Buccaneers, Jurevicius had become quarterback Brad Johnson's favorite target in tight situations.

But Jurevicius had to leave his team and join his wife, Meagan, when the unexpected birth happened. He said Sunday that there were several times during the first 48 hours of his son's life when he thought he might not make the game. "Family is first," Jurevicius said. "Football will always remain second to me."

On Thursday afternoon, Jurevicius said, his son's condition stabilized and his family began telling him to go to Philadelphia.

"It's what my son, my wife, my in-laws, my parents, needed me to do," Jurevicius said. I needed to be out here. I needed to go run around. I needed to be hit. I needed to hit.

"My son is a fighter. For everything he's gone through this week, the least I could do was hop on a plane and get down here."

-- Diane Pucin

*

Instead of celebrating the end of football after 31 years at Veterans Stadium, Eagles fans trudged out early, too despondent to even curse.

"Unbelievable," one said.

"Bummer, bummer, bummer," said another.

The Eagles move into the new Lincoln Financial Field next season. They had kept home-field advantage even after quarterback Donovan McNabb was hurt, winning four of five games in his absence.

"Knowing this situation, this being the last game at the Vet, we wanted to make it special," McNabb said.

"Everything that's been happening this year, we thought that we were destined to get to this spot."

*

The Buccaneers were more than happy to wreck all the story lines.

"That's all we were hearing all week long, was everything that didn't have anything to do with the game," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "The weather, it was going to snow, the field's bad, the rowdy crowd at the Vet, it's going to be the last game, they're going to reenact Wilbert Montgomery running [his touchdown on the first play of the 1980 NFC championship game] ... I wish they would have put his [butt] in the backfield."

So what did Sapp enjoy about the game?

"I'd liked watching [the fans] get up out of their seats and go home," Sapp said. "That's what I liked. Go home."

-- J.A. Adande

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