- The Washington Times - Friday, February 3, 2006

DETROIT. — Michael Jurevicius would be 3 now, old enough to sit in the stands at Ford Field on Sunday and watch his father play in the Super Bowl. But Joe Jurevicius tries not to think about that too much. It was hard enough for him to get through a game in St. Louis earlier this season after the Seahawks’ team bus had driven past Children’s Hospital en route to Edward Jones Dome. Children’s was where Michael died of a neurodegenerative disease in 2003, just two months after his premature birth.

“I don’t like seeing that place,” he says. “Unfortunately, it was the only way to get to the stadium. That was difficult, playing that day. I kind of held it inside me a little bit.”

You wouldn’t have known it. He had nine receptions for 137 yards — both career highs — and a touchdown in a 37-31 victory over the Rams, the beginning of an 11-game Seattle winning streak. But then, the Seahawks needed a big performance out of him that afternoon. Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram, the team’s top two wideouts, were both laid up with injuries.

And when duty calls Jurevicius, it never has to ask twice. During the Bucs’ run to the Super Bowl three years ago, he commuted between his son’s hospital room and the playing field, missing practices but never games. Somehow, he warded off the heartache and caught a huge 71-yard pass against the Eagles in the NFC title game to set up Tampa Bay’s first TD; in the Super Bowl, he led everybody with 78 receiving yards.

“That was one of the most unbelievable things I have ever experienced — what Joe was going through and the level he played at in those games,” says Tim Ruskell, who was working for the Bucs then but is now Seattle’s personnel boss.

Ruskell is the main reason Jurevicius wound up with the Seahawks. There wasn’t much of a market last spring for a going-on-30 complementary receiver who had been laid low by injuries the previous two seasons — and, indeed, Seattle only gave him a one-year deal. But Ruskell knew the strong stuff Joe was made of, knew how hard he’d worked to recover from a torn knee ligament and herniated disk. He also knew Joe was the polar opposite of high-maintenance Koren Robinson, the wideout he ostensibly was replacing.

Jurevicius proceeded to have his best of his eight seasons in the NFL, as receivers often do under Mike Holmgren. Jackson missed eight games and Engram three, but Seattle kept right on winning — with Jurevicius’ 10 touchdown catches (tied for second in the NFC behind Steve Smith’s 12) being a major factor.

“He was labeled a possession receiver,” Holmgren says, “but he is way more than that in my opinion. … He was just awesome for us this year. That’s a signing that really helped us, and now we hope to sign Joe for a few more years here.”

When Jurevicius was trying to battle back from injuries, one of the things that drove him was the thought of his infant son fighting for his life. The way he looks at it, “We all face trials and tribulations; we all run into roadblocks sometimes. If I don’t get up, it’s not setting a good example for the people I care about.”

It’s also not honoring the son he plays for, the son whose initial (M) he writes in the end zone before every game, the son he considers “my X-factor.” Michael Jurevicius is buried in Cleveland, “right down the street from his grandpa and grandma,” Joe says. As soon as I leave here and go back [home], “I’ll [visit his grave] every morning and every night.”

The memories of his last Super Bowl — and his and wife Meagan’s endless worry — are still fresh. But he can enjoy this week a little more, enjoy it the way it’s supposed to be enjoyed. Having their pain be so public has been difficult for the couple, but at least it has had the effect of gaining “recognition for the March of Dimes,” he says. “A lot of positives have come out of it.”

In many respects, Jurevicius considers himself blessed. He got to play in the Super Bowl with the Giants, again with the Bucs and now a third time with the Seahawks. “Maybe I’m a good-luck charm,” he says.

Then, too, 17 months ago, Meagan gave birth to Caroline. One of the happiest days of Joe’s life was when the doctor got the test results back — and told him his daughter didn’t have the fatal condition his son did. Caroline is too young to be at the Super Bowl this year; she’s staying with family this week. But maybe next time. Her father, after all, seems to have a lifetime pass to this game.

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