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The Bucs’ Keyshawn Johnson is ready to greet his old New York Jets friends in Raymond James Stadium this Sunday


Keyshawn Johnson will probably greet some of the Jets with open arms

The New York Jets visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday in a matchup of unbeatens, a marquee NFL matchup and a good…

Hey, did you know Keyshawn Johnson used to play for the Jets?!

Okay, until we cover this subject it's almost pointless to move on to the minutiae of Bucs vs. Jets. Keyshawn Johnson, the first pick in the 1996 draft, spent four seasons in New York establishing himself as one of the league's premier receivers.

In 1998, Johnson, QB Vinny Testaverde, RB Curtis Martin and WR Wayne Chrebet combined to give the Jets the fourth-best offense in the league and a ticket to the AFC Championship Game. The Jets couldn't quite pull off the upset in Denver that January and earn a trip to the Super Bowl, but Johnson and the rest still had high hopes entering 1999.

Then Testaverde ruptured his Achilles in the first half of the Jets first game. Head Coach Bill Parcells decided to step down after the season. Johnson had his fourth straight stellar season, even with revolving quarterbacks, but the Jets decided they couldn't afford to resign their star player.

The Jets thus shopped Johnson and the Bucs, who had managed their salary cap superbly stepped in to take advantage. Two first-round draft picks later, Johnson was a Buc.

But divorce from New York isn't easy, and the Jets trip to Tampa this Sunday is first and foremost Keyshawn against his former team, particularly to the New York media. Johnson addressed an assemblage of that media on Monday and shared his thoughts on the Jets' upcoming visit. He denied that his emotions have been stirred by the reunion.

"I don't think emotions is a proper word to use," said Johnson. "I don't have any emotions. I am very excited. Monday night game, Sunday night, Thursday night, Minnesota vs. Tampa now, it was New England vs. the Jets and I was excited.

"I'll just do my normal deal but one thing in this normal deal is this is considered to be a big-time game. And big-time players show up in big-time games. And according to my past history, I've done well in big-time games."

Johnson is not surprised that the Jets are off to as good of a start as his current squad.

"Good for them," said Johnson. "They're winning football games. There whole mission is to win football games. Their coming in here 3-0 makes it that much more interesting. They're doing the right things to win football games."

Johnson told the media that he had expected the Jets to be prime Super Bowl contenders in 1999 before Testaverde's injury and he thought the same thing heading into the 2000 offseason. Now that he has switched conferences and colors, Johnson has a new perspective. He likes the Bucs chances now and has left his allegiance behind in the effort to take his new team to the next level.

"Based on 1998, I thought we had a tremendous upside going into 1999," said Johnson. "It didn't work out well with the injury to Vinny and everything, that was a major loss to the team. In 2000, I felt we were probably going to be the front runner for the Super Bowl in NY. Now being here in Tampa, it shifts. I think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a legitimate shot to do it all if we continue to play the game the way we know how.

"They're 3-0, we're 3-0," he said. "I feel very comfortable with this football team. I think the coaches here feel comfortable with what they've acquired. I'm pretty happy with the situation. There's nothing that I regret. I don't have to prove anything. They know what they had for four years and I played a great part in that for four years. Now it's time to go to my new team and try to help them go to the Super Bowl."

Johnson stopped short of saying the game had no extra meaning for him. "I want to be 4-0, definitely," he said. "You have to b e 4-0 in order to advance. As long as you continue to keep winning, that's what I want to do. You want to win the football game. You want to play the NY Jets and you want to win the football game.

"I'm pretty sure Deion wants to beat Dallas tonight – that's just human nature."

To read the tabloids, Johnson might want specifically to best Chrebet, his starting mate with the Jets. He feels no need to send a specific message to any of his former teammates, however.

"They'll have the message on film when they watch it," said Johnson. "I don't have to send a message. They'll see the film, they know what our defense can do. It's very difficult to do anything on this defense, it just is. It's no big secret. Everyone knows it."

Johnson also gives credit to the Jets' passing game, however. "I think Vinny is a great QB and great quarterbacks make other players around them play good," he said.

Still, Johnson can't help feeling that his old offensive teammates are in for a rugged battle this Sunday.

"I watched them on TV and I was like, they are a good defense," said Johnson of the NFL's toughest unit to score on since 1997. "Seeing them up close in person and seeing what they're capable of doing – it's going to be a long day and its hot down here."

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