WR Yo Murphy played for three teams in 1999: Tampa Bay, Minnesota and the World League's Scottish Claymores
An NFL training camp can be an introspective time for a player thought to be 'on the bubble'. As a veteran of three such camps plus several stints in the NFL Europe League, WR Yo Murphy had had plenty of time for soul-searching by the time he launched into last year's preseason with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It would be one last shot, Murphy decided. Make it or move on.
Murphy made it, as was further emphasized on Wednesday when the Buccaneers re-signed him to a two-year contract. Though he will head into the Bucs' 2000 training camp again in search of a permanent job, his regular-season NFL action in 1999 is a major boost to his resume.
"This was it for me, my last go around," said Murphy after surviving the cut to 53 last September. "If I didn't make it here, I was going to try a different avenue. I'm excited to be here, but if it wasn't going to happen, this year, I was going to try something else."
Signed midway through July just in time for the Tampa Bay's '99 camp, Murphy was an instant hit, forcing the Bucs to keep six receivers for the first time in Head Coach Tony Dungy's four seasons at the helm. Murphy, whose actual first name is Llewellyn, caught six passes for 100 yards in four preseason games, including a team-high four for 49 yards in the preseason finale at Washington on September 3. However, it was a play on special teams a week earlier that seemed to cement his first regular-season job.
It's not as if Murphy was given an extensive audition for the kick return job. But the 5-10, 178-pound burner substituted quality for quantity when he burned the New England Patriots for a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on his only runback of the pre-season. "I think those big plays are what got me to where I am today," said Murphy. "Every time a ball comes down into my hands, I feel like I'm going to do that. That attitude is something that I think I need and it's something that I needed in training camp to make this team."
When the regular season began, the Buccaneer coaches generally kept only four of the team's six receivers active for duty on game day. However, with a variety of injuries to the receiving corps in the early going, both Murphy and rookie Darnell McDonald saw significant action. Murphy got into seven of the Bucs' first 10 games and contributed four catches for 28 yards plus 14 kickoff returns for 307 yards (21.9 average) and three kick-coverage tackles.
Then Murphy's winding NFL path took another strange twist in late November. Due to a shoulder injury suffered by Trent Dilfer in Seattle on November 28, the Buccaneers were forced into a roster move to shore up the quarterback position. Tampa Bay cut from a position of depth, waiving Murphy on November 30, six days before the team was to play the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football, with first place in the NFC Central on the line.
Strangely, despite being waived, Murphy was not denied a chance to play in that big game, though he didn't get to share in the excitement of Tampa Bay's 23-16 victory. Murphy, who previously toiled in two Viking training camps, was claimed off waivers by Minnesota and put into uniform for the Monday night showdown. The Vikings, shorthanded by a season-ending injury to David Palmer, were looking for return help and Murphy was handed that job directly. That would be the end of his action for the season, however, as Murphy was placed on the team's inactive list for the final four games and the first Viking playoff contest. He was then released by Minnesota prior to the team's Divisional Playoff loss at St. Louis, making him available for this return to Tampa Bay.
For a player who has spent three seasons in Scotland, where he was the World Bowl MVP in 1996 and the league's leading receiver in 1997, his travels in 1999 were not too outrageous. Best of all, they came full circle, allowing Murphy another shot with a team he knows appreciates his talents. For a player that has experience sliding down each side of the 'bubble', that is at the very least a comforting feeling.