JUST a few short years ago, English wide receiver Scott McCready was watching the Super Bowl on television from his home in Chiswick, just outside of London, dreaming of one day being part of the big game.
It was an ambition shared by thousands of amateur football players across Europe, but McCready has made his dreams come true and is a member of the New England Patriots team preparing to face the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI on Sunday.
The 24-year-old McCready made history when he joined the Patriots practice squad in November, becoming the first non-kicking Englishman to play in the NFL.
Other English players such as Jon Smith (New England 1974-83) and Mick Luckhurst (Atlanta 1981-87) only held kicking positions in the NFL.
McCready is the latest European player to have an impact in the NFL this season. German offensive lineman Patrick Venzke is on the active roster of the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Frankfurt Galaxy defensive lineman Daniel Benetka impressed coaches during the 2001 NFL preseason while playing for the Indianapolis Colts.
And another German could soon be making waves in the NFL as Constantin Ritzmann has been a regular contributor at defensive end for the University of Tennessee, one of college football's top teams.
As a member of the Patriots practice squad, McCready works out with the team but will not suit up at the Louisiana Superdome this weekend.
However, he did attend Media Day on Tuesday and is enjoying the atmosphere and excitement of one of the biggest events in world sport.
"Being at the Super Bowl is something you always think about and something you want," said McCready, who has 'Made in England' tattooed around his navel. "You dream of situations like this. I'm around a confident bunch of guys and they know what they need to do and they do it well. It's great just to be around that."
After playing amateur football in the United Kingdom as a teenager, McCready and his family emigrated to the United States when he was 15 years old.
Upon his arrival in the United States, McCready became a high school football star in Florida, earning all-district and all-conference honours while playing at King High in Tampa. After spending two seasons at Louisiana Tech University, McCready transferred to the University of South Florida and began attracting the attention of visiting NFL scouts.
In 1997, his first season at USF, McCready played in three games and caught 6 passes for 103 yards before a serious knee injury sidelined him for the entire 1998 campaign. The 6-foot, 200-pounder returned to play every game in 1999, starting four contests and catching 22 passes for 364 yards and 2 touchdowns.
In his final season at USF in 2000, McCready emerged as the school's premier wide receiver, starting 10 games and making a team-high 37 catches for 517 yards and 6 touchdowns.
"This is more of an accomplishment because I'm from a different country," McCready said. "This is something I've wanted to do since I was a little kid, since I was 13 years old. When I was living in England, if I told people what I wanted to do, they'd laugh at me. Now I'm here in the NFL and I feel good about that.
"It's weird being here at the Super Bowl. It really hasn't sunk in yet. It's started to a little bit at Media Day, but it's something I've wanted to do as a little kid. It's something I told my friends I'd do and they wouldn't believe me and would laugh and chuckle or whatever. I'm truly honored to be part of something like this and am looking to enjoy every second I can. I'll wait until I go home in February and tell them then that I made it here.
"To be a part of something like this is something that doesn't come along too often. There are players who have played in the league 10 or 12 years who will never get to do this. I'm not going to be playing in the game but I can still be around and be a part of the team that is playing in it and feel the excitement and all the kind of stuff that's going."
As a member of the practice squad, McCready's primary job during Super Bowl week is to help the members of the active roster get ready to face the Rams. He will be playing the role of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt on the scout team in practices.
"I just go out there and practice as hard as I can and try to get better," he said. "I'm going up against players like Otis Smith, Ty Law and Terrell Buckley and I'm trying to improve, while helping the team at the same time."
Having been with the Patriots since mid-season, McCready has seen his team grow in stature en route to New Orleans. But will confidence be enough to see off the high-scoring Rams?
"We like our chances against anyone we play and it's been like that all year," McCready said. "We weren't supposed to win last week in Pittsburgh and weren't supposed to win the week before against Oakland."