- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

SAN DIEGO Keenan McCardell has been to the big dance before, but this Super Bowl is going to be different.

When McCardell last got to the Super Bowl after the 1991 season as a Washington rookie, he was on injured reserve after hurting a knee during a scrimmage against Pittsburgh. On Sunday, McCardell will start at receiver for Tampa Bay against Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII.

"You earn your ring whenever you go out and put your health on the line, but on Sunday, I'm going to come through that tunnel with my uniform on as a starter," said McCardell, 33.

McCardell, who signed with Cleveland as Plan B free agent in 1992 and then jumped to Jacksonville in 1996, figured he eventually would play in a Super Bowl but as a Jaguar. During his six years in Jacksonville, he and Jimmy Smith caught 1,061 passes, the most by a wideout duo in NFL history during such a span. The Jaguars made the playoffs four times, twice losing the AFC Championship game.

But after catching 93 passes in 2001, McCardell fell victim to Jacksonville's spending in excess of the salary cap and was cut. He signed a four-year, $10million contract with Tampa Bay on June 8.

"I was bitter," said McCardell, whose 640 catches are 21st all-time and eighth among active players. "You were breaking up a great tandem. But I saw something in the Bucs. This team was missing a couple of pieces to the puzzle to get to the Super Bowl, and I felt that I could be one of those pieces. It turned out to be a great decision."

McCardell led the Bucs with six touchdowns, although his 61 catches and 670 yards were his fewest since 1995. Still, quarterback Brad Johnson called McCardell "very steady," and he was Tampa Bay's most effective No.2 receiver (after top target Keyshawn Johnson) in memory.

"In the past, our receivers were a little tentative and could be intimidated by [the Bucs' top-ranked defense], but Keenan came out of the gate talking trash," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "He brought that vet attitude. Keenan knows he's better than a lot of guys. That elevated everybody on that side of the ball. Keenan's hard to cover. He can find the openings in zones. He understands route running. He understands defenses. The guy really knows how to play the game."

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