MVP Jackson Glad To Quiet Critics
The Tampa Tribune, published 27 January 2003

Dexter Jackson received his choice of Cadillac that comes with the award, deciding on an Escalade. But that still didn't stop him from expressing his displeasure, albeit humorously, for not getting the keys to the Magic Kingdom. Quarterback Brad Johnson was the Bucs player chosen to represent the team Tuesday at Disneyland.

``I'm a little disappointed,'' Jackson said. ``I always wanted to hang out with Mickey Mouse and the guys. I wasn't selected, but that's fine. I can ride by Disneyland in my new Cadillac. I'll toot my horn when I ride by Disneyland. I'll go to Six Flags or somewhere.''

Few could have blamed Jackson for momentarily tooting his horn loudly Tuesday. Tuesday's informal award ceremony was the culmination of the best season of the safety's four-year NFL career. It was a season in which he seemed to progress with greater acceleration than his sleek new SUV.

His pair of first-half interceptions Sunday were only two fewer than he totaled his first three years in the league, when he became increasingly frustrated as a deep-ball neutralizer with few opportunities to step in the box and play run defense. ``To be honest with you, I felt like I wasn't part of the team,'' said Jackson, who watched his role in run stoppage increase with his interception total in 2002. ``The type of player I am, I like to contribute to the defense as much as I can.''

To illustrate, Jackson recalled two games earlier in his career against Chicago, when the Bears lulled the former FSU standout to sleep with a steady helping of Power-I formations, then caught him out of position on a deep post. ``That's the thing they said, I get overanxious and want to make a play and get out of position,'' he said.

But perhaps no game better illustrated Jackson's maturation than the Super Bowl. Instead of biting on the Raiders' litany of short passes, Jackson sat back until making precise reads on a pair of intermediate Rich Gannon throws, picking off both.

``John Lynch in previous years was a guy we liked to operate down around the line of scrimmage, and Dexter was basically the free safety in our defense,'' Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. ``As we developed and as we improved, Dexter and John had the same capability in a defense. But when you see a team that throws the ball every play, you're going to get your chances, and we got that [Sunday] night.''

As an unrestricted free agent, Jackson couldn't have chosen a more opportune moment for a career game. He hasn't started negotiations with the Bucs on a potential new contract, and likely won't until his wife - 8 1/2 months pregnant - gives birth. At least he will have a luxurious mode of transportation for that hospital trip.

``I feel great for Dexter Jackson,'' said nickel back Dwight Smith, whose second interception return for a TD Sunday presumably came after MVP voters had turned in their ballots. ``He's a guy who's been working hard all season and he's up for a contract, so it's all good for an individual award and I hope he gets what he's looking for.''