Keyshawn Backs Up Brash Talk With His Play
The Tampa Tribune, published 24 September 2002

For all the talk, the flash, and, of course, the money, Bucs wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson has an uncanny knack of backing it up. That might annoy his detractors, those who call him ``Me-Shawn'' and wonder aloud how any player can be worth $53 million. But then Keyshawn goes and makes a play that must make those same people admit to themselves that however ridiculous that sum might seem to the average man, he might just be worth it.

This time, Johnson made the kind of human highlight- reel catch that he's been known for wherever he's played. With a national television audience and 65,000-plus at Raymond James Stadium to witness it, the reception came at one of the most critical times: the Bucs trailing the Rams midway in the second quarter, facing a third-and- long and in danger of letting their biggest defensive play of the game to that point go to utter waste. ``I just try to make plays when they come to me,'' Johnson said. ``I'm not getting a whole lot of opportunities, so I've got to take advantage of the ones I get.''

Instead, Simeon Rice's interception will be remembered as meaningful, Bucs guard Kerry Jenkins won't be recounted as the goat and, thanks to the Bucs' 26-14 victory, Keyshawn's catch will be held in even greater reverence. On the first play after Rice's pick, quarterback Brad Johnson got things rolling in the right direction with a 9-yard completion to Michael Pittman. But Jenkins sent the Bucs 5 yards the other direction for a false start. Two plays later, Jenkins earned another flag and wiped out a first-down catch by Keenan McCardell with a tripping penalty.

Enter Keyshawn and those glove-covered, three-time Pro Bowl hands of his. On third-and-14, Keyshawn ran a deep out from left to right. Brad Johnson seemed to be looking for No. 19 all the way, but his pass faded short, forcing Keyshawn to curl several yards back. Keyshawn made complete use of his speed and every millimeter of his 6-foot-4 frame when he made a sliding, fingertip catch inches above the grass near the Bucs' sideline.

It was one of those catches that often is ruled incomplete without the aid of video replay. Certainly, it conjured up memories of Bert Emanuel's controversial catch in the January 2000 NFC title game between the teams. Maybe it had something to do with Keyshawn's reputation for producing such amazing receptions, but no one, including the Rams, asked for a replay. Three plays later, newly acquired tight end Rickey Dudley hauled in his first catch as a Buc for the touchdown that put Tampa Bay up for good, 13-7. Funny thing is, Keyshawn didn't make another catch the rest of the game, finishing with four for 59 yards. Modest numbers for a guy who has averaged 80 receptions per season during his first six years in the NFL. But as things turned out, the Bucs didn't need another grab by their Money Man, did they?