WR Joe Jurevicius has worked for more than a year to return to full health and resume producing big numbers for the Buccaneers
On paper, the play was designed to pick up five to 10 yards and move the chains. Two years ago in Philadelphia, however, a short crossing route from a tight bunch formation forever altered the course of Tampa Bay Buccaneer history.
A 71-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Joe Jurevicius shifted the momentum of arguably the most exciting game in franchise history, the 2002 NFC Championship Game, and earned Jurevicius a permanent spot in the hearts of Buccaneer fans.
The Bucs won the Super Bowl a week later, and Jurevicius was on the cover of the ensuing Sports Illustrated. In the 2003 season opener, the next game that counted for the Buccaneers, Jurevicius made two acrobatic touchdown catches in a 17-3 win at, again, Philadelphia.
Then, a week later, he suffered knee injury against Carolina that began over a year of troubles. Only recently, after battling through knee and back surgeries and months of recovery, has Jurevicius begun to feel fully healthy and back in the flow of the game.
That's good news for the Buccaneers, and for Tampa Bay fans, who have adopted Jurevicius as a favorite due to his big-play potential. Working primarily out of the slot, Jurevicius' combination of size, soft hands and nimble feet make him an especially dangerous offensive weapon.
"I've been in the slot here a lot, which enables me to use my size as an advantage against defensive backs," said Jurevicius. "I enjoy playing both the slot and outside, but doing so in the slot definitely has a lot of advantages."
The 6'5" Jurevicius provides Buccaneer quarterbacks with a big target and presents opposing defenses with match-up problems. Against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, he could be a key figure once again. Arizona Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast loves to blitz, so Jurevicius should see considerable one-on-one match-ups against one of the Cardinals' top three cornerbacks, none of whom is six feet tall.
Jurevicius shouldn't be pigeonholed as a possession receiver due to his size, however. He has also shown the ability to get down the field quickly on vertical routes. With teams starting to account for both Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton, the surprisingly quick Jurevicius should find open territory up the seam, as he did against the San Francisco 49ers in November, when he scored two touchdowns. Ultimately, he seeks only to be a well-rounded player.
"I think I'm an all-around receiver," said Jurevicius. "I think I do a little bit of everything, and whatever's asked of me I think I've been good at getting it done. Obviously I'm a bigger receiver, but I've stretched the field before and I think I can do that. I can catch underneath and be a physical receiver too, though."
By performing on the field and fighting through adversity off it, Jurevicius has needed fewer than three seasons to capture the hearts of Buccaneer rooters. Fans feel like they can relate to the down-to-earth receiver. Respect for Jurevicius reaches far past what he does on the field. In 2003 he received the Bucs' Ed Block Courage Award, which is given annually to the player on each NFL team who best exemplifies commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage; he is also a two-time finalist for the George Halas Award, which recognizes the player or coach who has performed with abandon despite injury or personal problems off the field.
Despite the fan's favor, Jurevicius doesn't live the life of a rock star. He doesn't mind the attention that goes along with life as an NFL player, but he still manages to go about his daily business around town in a low-key manner.
He is a self-proclaimed "regular guy" who has achieved extraordinary things both on and off the football field – perhaps that best explains why Jurevicius is so beloved by the Bay area.
"Being in the public eye, a lot of people know a lot of stuff about you," said Jurevicius. "I really enjoy spending time with my wife and daughter and doing things in the outdoors. I think I'm just a good guy – I don't think there's anything out there that people don't already know about me."