Joe Jurevicius stayed behind in Tampa when his Buccaneers teammates traveled here Friday. To Jurevicius, something was more important than the most significant game in Bucs history: His son Michael was suffering from complications after his premature birth Tuesday.
Jurevicius, the Bucs' 6-foot-5 wide receiver, missed practices from Wednesday through Friday and his status for today's game was uncertain. But after some prodding from his family -- and improvement in his son's condition -- Jurevicius arrived here Saturday night, then went out and made a 71-yard pass reception that his teammates said turned the game around. The Bucs went on to a 27-10 victory over the Eagles and their first appearance in the Super Bowl.
"I'm sitting on top of the world right now," said Jurevicius. "The best day of my life was Tuesday when he was born and then it was up and down all week."
Early on, it seemed like the season would end on the downside for Tampa. The Eagles led 7-3 early in the first quarter after taking only three plays to score, sending the sellout crowd of 66,713 into a tizzy. Tampa faced third and two on its 24-yard line. Quarterback Brad Johnson threw a short pass to Jurevicius near the left sideline, and he burst downfield, only to be pushed out of bounds by Brian Dawkins at the Philadelphia 5.
Two plays later, Mike Alstott scored on a one-yard run to give the Bucs a 10-7 lead.
"That was huge -- the momentum," said Tampa's number one wideout, Keyshawn Johnson, who had three catches for 40 yards, including a touchdown. "They got up by seven points and Joe makes the third-down catch."
The long reception was Jurevicius's only one of the day, but his teammates greeted him as if he'd caught 10 passes.
"The way I feel right now and the way things are going," he said, "I think my son may be up walking right now."
Michael Jurevicius, who was born two weeks early, weighed 6 pounds 1 ounce Tuesday, and had complications, which Jurevicius declined to discuss, from his premature birth. Jurevicius's only time with his teammates was a team meeting Thursday morning. He missed Thursday afternoon and Friday practices, then discussed whether to go to Philadelphia with his wife, Meagan, and his family. Minutes before kickoff, Jurevicius was told by a nurse that Michael was "a fraction of an inch better."
"My son, he's a tiger," said Jurevicius, whose wife was watching the game from home. "And I think for everything he's gone through this week, the least I could do is hop on a plane and play football."
Keyshawn Johnson said: "It could have been his choice not to. But I think he felt good about his decision. He helped us in a big play get into the Super Bowl."
The Bucs had told Jurevicius (37 receptions, 423 yards, 4 touchdowns in the regular season) that they supported whatever decision he made and were ready to replace him with Karl Williams, mainly a punt returner.
"My family said: 'It isn't a matter of should you. It's you're going to,' " Jurevicius said. "And here I am today."
Next is a trip to San Diego for the Super Bowl.
"Right now I'm on Cloud Nine," said Jurevicius, who caught a 20-yard touchdown pass a week ago in the Bucs' 31-6 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, and plans to practice Tuesday. "I really can't wait to go home and just give my son the biggest kiss in the world, and hug my wife and tell my family I love 'em.
"We have a big week ahead of us now. Daddy is going to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win a Super Bowl."