Keyshawn Celebrates In His Own Way
The Tampa Tribune, published 13 January 2003

On a picture-perfect afternoon when there was so much love at Raymond James Stadium for anyone wearing red and pewter, at least one Buc seemed totally indifferent to it all - or was he? That's the thing about wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. You're never quite sure if he wants to be left off the ``invited'' list to the party, or be at the center of it. But we do know these things with a fair amount of certainty about the guy wearing No. 19: He's an exceptionally talented and extremely competitive athlete, he marches to the beat of his own drum and he doesn't seem to care what the media, fans or just about anyone thinks of him. ``He doesn't [care],'' said fellow Bucs receiver Keenan McCardell, ``believe me.''

In that regard, Johnson continues to be an enigma, the classic riddle within a riddle. Is he really so self-assured of the path he is taking? Does he really want to be here or with some other team? After all, why, when nearly all his teammates basked in the high-five, postgame glory of the Bucs' first playoff victory in three years, would Johnson be one of the first guys showered, dressed and out of the locker room?

It wasn't like there was an entourage waiting for him outside. Wearing a black leather coat, carrying only his shaving kit, Johnson strode alone and quickly toward the stadium's exit. He was a virtual Hans Solo, a man leaving work who now had other things on his crowded agenda. Like so many other Sundays for the past seven years, Johnson performed his job like few can in this league. In the Bucs' 31-6 romp against the 49ers, he was the game's top receiver, hauling in five catches for 85 yards. Some were difficult and most were critical receptions, including his 19-yarder that kept Tampa Bay's first scoring drive alive, his 28-yarder that set up the second touchdown and his 11-yard catch on third down that kept the Bucs' final scoring drive alive.

Say what you want about Johnson - and people do - the man almost always gets it done when the Bucs need it most. ``All I know is that for me, the best thing for me to do was to try to step up and play a large role when I got the opportunity, whether it was in the passing game or the running game,'' Johnson said on his lone stop outside the locker room. ``Personally, I felt like I did that today.''

Johnson did indeed. But just like other Bucs victories this season, Johnson didn't seem particularly ecstatic about the result. Yes, his team won and will play in the NFC title game. But on this day against this injury-riddled 49ers secondary, Johnson arguably could have racked up twice the catches and at least one TD. Jon Gruden seemed to make a veiled reference to that possibility - or did he? - when he was asked about his team boasting five other players with a combined 11 catches and both TDs that were scored via the pass. Again, Keyshawn seemed veiled in mystery. ``We spread the ball around today,'' Gruden said. ``Some guys like that, some guys don't.''

Of course, it was an afternoon indicative of Johnson's regular-season effort, when he led the team in receptions (76) and receiving yards (1,088). And it was typical of his seven seasons in the NFL, as his 558 catches for 7,336 yards and 45 touchdowns could have him on track to enter the Hall of Fame. Johnson knows this, but he also realizes his collection of awards would mean much more with at least one Super Bowl ring. He's been this close to that ring once before - in 1998 with the New York Jets - but that's where the journey ended. ``This [win] was gratify ing,'' Johnson said. ``But there's a lot more to do.''