One hundred and 13 picks into the 1999 NFL Draft, near the midpoint of the fourth round, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers handed in a card with the name "Dexter Jackson" printed neatly on its back.
And thus did the Florida State safety affectionately nicknamed "Dirt Road" start down the path that, just a few years later, would lead him to the pinnacle of his sport. On January 26, 2003, shortly after the Buccaneers defeated the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, Jackson held the Pete Rozelle Trophy over his head as Super Bowl MVP.
Later this week, 13 years after his own entry into the league, Jackson will pass on the baton during the NFL's 2012 draft, and perhaps set another young prospect on the path to greatness as a Buccaneer.
Jackson, who played six of his 10 NFL seasons in Tampa, has been chosen to announce Tampa Bay's second-round pick on Friday night at draft headquarters in New York City's Radio City Music Hall. Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league officials take most of the draft cards to the podium during the three days of the draft, but each team is allowed to pick a special representative to handle that duty during the second round. Last year, safety John Lynch, another key member of that 2002 Super Bowl team and a potential Hall of Famer, announced Tampa Bay's selection of Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers in the second round of the 2011 draft.
While NFL teams make their actual draft decisions at their own various headquarters around the country, the picks are officially announced onstage at the Music Hall. Each team sends a small group of representatives to New York to man a table in the Hall and hand in printed cards once the decisions have been made. A phone line remains open between a team's headquarters and its table in New York during the entire draft.
On Friday night, Jackson will get to take the card onstage himself, and not long after the night of drafting begins. Tampa Bay is scheduled to pick fourth in the second round, 36th overall, and that selection could very easily prove as important as the player the team adds early in the first round. In addition to last year's pick of Bowers, the second round has historically produced a number of key players, including Mike Alstott, Brian Kelly, Reggie Cobb, Winston Moss, Ricky Reynolds, Randy Grimes, James Wilder and Kevin House.
Buccaneer fans eagerly awaiting the name that will join that list will also get a welcome reminder of the franchise's best season. In 2002, Tampa Bay won a franchise-record 12 regular-season games, earned the first NFC South title and a first-round bye, demolished San Francisco and Philadelphia to reach the Super Bowl then took home its first Lombardi Trophy. Jackson, manning free safety with Lynch at his usual strong safety spot, started all 19 games (including the postseason) and helped the Buccaneers top the NFL's defensive rankings. During the regular season, he contributed 86 tackles, three interceptions, five tackles for a loss and 10 passes defensed.
In Super Bowl XXXVII, Jackson locked up the MVP award in the first half with his two game-changing picks off league MVP Rich Gannon, the Raiders' prolific quarterback. Both interceptions came in Buccaneers' territory while the game was still very close; the first set up a Martin Gramatica field goal that broke a 3-3 tie and started a run of 31 straight points for Tampa Bay.
In all, the Buccaneers' renowned defense picked off five Gannon passes and returned three of them for touchdowns, both Super Bowl records. There were many defensive stars for Tampa Bay on that unforgettable evening, including Dwight Smith (two interceptions returned for touchdowns), Derrick Brooks (game-sealing interception return for a score in the fourth quarter), Simeon Rice (two sacks) and Greg Spires (one sack, two deflected passes). Jackson, however, set the tone for the defense's incredible performance and cemented his place in franchise history in the process.
Perhaps the Buccaneers' 2012 second-round pick will find similar success in a Tampa Bay uniform. If so, it will be Jackson who has the privilege of introducing the team's newest star to Buccaneer fans across the nation.