Happy Ending To Tough Week For Jurevicius
The Tampa Tribune, published 20 January 2003

The Bucs needed a play. It was late in the first quarter, but everyone in Veterans Stadium knew what had to happen. The Bucs needed a play. That's when Joe Jurevicius caught that little crossing pattern. It went from simple to startling. He ran so hard. He ran so fast. Faster than anyone had ever seen. ``I thought, `My God, where did he get that juice?' '' fellow wideout Keenan McCardell said. Jurevicius beat linebacker Barry Gardner, sped to the left sideline and took off. It was like something - or, I guess, somebody - was pushing him along,'' offensive tackle Lomas Brown said.

He kept running. Only a shoestring tackle by Philadelphia safety Brian Dawkins, at the Eagles 5-yard line, saved the inevitable touchdown, which came two plays later. ``Joe's speed is underrated, but he ain't that fast,'' Bucs safety John Lynch said. ``There was something special in him today, a special spirit.''

There were plenty of big plays during Tampa Bay's 27-10 win against the Eagles in Sunday's NFC Championship Game. Plenty of people who contributed. But, to a man, nearly every Buc player pointed to the stunning 71-yard play by Jurevicius on third-and-2, with the crowd howling, with Tampa Bay backed to the brink. It opened eyes. It reversed momentum. It put the Bucs in control. And it gave life to the Tampa Bay sideline. Afterward, when the Bucs knew they were finally headed to Super Bowl XXXVII, when there was celebrating all around, Jurevicius had a more quiet destination in mind. Home - if only for a day. ``I can't wait to get there and give my son the biggest kiss in the world,'' he said. ``I want to hug my wife. I want to tell my family that I love them.''

Michael William Jurevicius - the first born child of Joe and Meagan Jurevicius - arrived on Tuesday. Michael is Joe's middle name. William is the first name of Joe's father. Michael William Jurevicius. ``A nice strong name,'' Jurevicius said.

Michael William arrived prematurely, by two weeks, and there have been problems. Jurevicius won't give many details, except disclosing the baby's birth weight (6 pounds, 1 ounce - a very positive sign) and saying he's doing much better after some tense moments. ``He's a fighter,'' Jurevicius said. ``He's battling. It's going to be a long, tedious process. My son is sick, but he's battling.''

Anyone who doesn't believe in miracles should visit the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at a hospital. Some babies just come early. Nobody can fully explain why. These babies, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand but not ready to exist outside the womb, are all fighters. They fight to move. They fight to breathe. They fight to live. ``I can't fathom it,'' said Lynch, a father of three children.

Joe Jurevicius, who caught a spectacular fingertip touchdown pass against the 49ers on Jan. 12 to put Tampa Bay within one game of its first Super Bowl appearance, became a father just two days later. But there were complications. Michael William was in danger. From the highest high to the lowest low. ``If you could bottle what I went through this week, and make a roller- coaster out of it, I'd be a billionaire,'' Jurevicius said. ``I'd have every theme park in the world coming after me.''

He missed practice, serving a vigil at the hospital. When he explained the situation to Bucs coach Jon Gruden, there was deep understanding and caring. ``Coach Gruden told me to be with my son,'' Jurevicius said. ``I'll never forget those words, where he was sitting, what he was wearing. Football just became secondary.''

Nobody knew whether Jurevicius would even come to Philadelphia. For a while, he wasn't sure, either. ``If you have problems doing that [missing a game], you shouldn't be a father,'' Jurevicius said.

With Michael William in stable condition and his family shooing him out the door - (Meagan's plea: ``You've got to go'') - Jurevicius arrived in town on Saturday afternoon. Teammates greeted him with high-fives and hugs. All week, he had been around for just one walk-through practice. But he was ready. He was focused. ``Mark my words, Joe Jurevicius is going to be a star receiver for this Buccaneer team,'' Gruden said.

He already made his mark after being signed as a free agent from the New York Giants. He already has a permanent place in Buccaneer lore. He's an emerging football player. More importantly, he's a new father. ``Family comes first - always,'' he said. Today, Michael William Jurevicius will spend another day inside a hospital incubator. If only he knew what happened Sunday, how fast and hard his father ran down that sideline. One day, he'll have the souvenirs that Jurevicius gathered from the Vet's final football game. One day, maybe he'll be playing with his dad's Super Bowl ring. ``He's going to beat the odds,'' Jurevicius said. ``My son, he's a fighter.''

The kid is just six days old. But wouldn't you know it? Already, Michael William Jurevicius is taking after his father.