WR Keenan McCardell first made the Pro Bowl as a Jacksonville Jaguar in 1996
Keenan McCardell didn't need a Pro Bowl invite to validate his efforts in 2003. When the season came to an end, McCardell was satisfied he had performed as well as he could and, in the process, re-emerged as one of the league's most productive receivers.
But you know what? It doesn't hurt.
On Thursday, McCardell learned that he would, indeed, be headed to Honolulu for the 2004 Pro Bowl. He replaces San Francisco wide receiver Terrell Owens, who will not be able to play due to a shoulder injury.
Now that he is in, and making the second Pro Bowl trip of his 12-year career, McCardell is thrilled to be recognized for his performance in 2003. The Bucs' leading pass-catcher and the only constant in a receiving corps hampered by injury and turmoil, McCardell racked up 84 receptions for 1,174 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging a career-high 14.0 yards per catch.
"This honor means a lot to me," said McCardell upon hearing the news Thursday. "It shows a lot of hard work has paid off. I am very proud to represent the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Hawaii, and I will certainly go over and do my best like I always do. It's a big honor."
McCardell will help form a high-powered quartet of receivers on the NFC's side, joining St. Louis' Torry Holt (117-1,696-12), Minnesota's Randy Moss (111-1,632-17) and Arizona rookie Anquan Boldin (101-1,377-8). Holt, Moss, Boldin and McCardell ranked first, second, third and fifth, respectively, in the NFC in both receptions and receiving yards.
McCardell belongs in that group, according to his head coach.
"We are proud and pleased that Keenan has been selected to play in the Pro Bowl," said Jon Gruden. "That's how we see him. Hopefully, this is just the start of many great things for him."
McCardell will also give the Bucs' a fourth Pro Bowler, as he will accompany linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive end Simeon Rice and defensive tackle Warren Sapp to Hawaii. Brooks and Rice are starters in the game while McCardell and Sapp will serve as reserves. The Bucs have now had at least four Pro Bowlers for seven straight seasons; from 1997-2003, Buc players have earned a total of 45 all-star selections, or more than six per year.
McCardell is just the third Tampa Bay receiver ever to make it to the Pro Bowl. Mark Carrier was the first to do so, in 1989, and Keyshawn Johnson followed in 2001. McCardell is also just the sixth player to earn a Pro Bowl invite as a Buccaneer after also doing so with another team, all since 2000; the other five were C Jeff Christy, G Randall McDaniel, K. Johnson, QB Brad Johnson and DE Simeon Rice.
McCardell initially made the Pro Bowl in 1996, the first Jacksonville Jaguar ever to do so. That year, he caught 85 passes for 1,129 yards and three touchdowns. That began an incredibly prolific eight-year stretch with two Florida teams in which he averaged 81 receptions for 1,029 and 5.5 touchdowns, never catching fewer than 61 passes in a season.
McCardell was the only Buccaneer receiver to play in all 16 games this season and the only one to start more than 10 of them. Injuries to Joe Jurevicius and the team's decision to deactivate Keyshawn Johnson for the last six games led to a constantly unsettled lineup. By the season finale against Tennessee, McCardell was joined on the field by two players who had not caught a single pass in 2002, Charles Lee and Edell Shepherd.
Though he caught just one pass for three yards in that finale at Tennessee, McCardell was amazingly consistent throughout the season. He led the team in receiving in eight games and had at least 50 receiving yards in all but two of the first 15 contests. And though he turned 34 just this past Tuesday, McCardell was more of a deep threat in 2003 than an any other season in his career. He recorded the three longest receptions of his career this season – 74, 75 and 76-yarders, all four touchdowns – and became the first Buc ever to catch three passes of 70 or more yards in the same year.
McCardell originally joined the Bucs in June of 2002, days after the Jaguars had released him in a salary-cap maneuver. He was the exact complement to Keyshawn Johnson that the team had expected, as he caught 61 passes for 670 yards and scored six times, plus twice more in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Pro Bowl substitutes are not chosen by random or left up to the NFL or the Pro Bowl's coaching squad. The same voting process that determines the original Pro Bowl rosters in December also produces alternates at each spot, though those alternates are not made public unless they are eventually selected to play. That McCardell was a high-ranking alternate was not a surprise, given his outstanding statistics and first-class reputation around the league. He was considered by many to be the Bucs' primary 'snub' when the Pro Bowl rosters were announced in December.