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Jurevicius has second chance to be father, football player

Joe Jurevicius kneels in the end zone before each game, writes his late son's first initial in the turf and reminds himself how fortunate he is to have a second chance to be a father and a football player.

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Joe Jurevicius kneels in the end zone before each game, writes his late son's first initial in the turf and reminds himself how fortunate he is to have a second chance to be a father and a football player.

Tampa Bay's soft-spoken receiver is back after being sidelined nearly a year by injuries. He's excited about his 3-month-old daughter and eager to help the Buccaneers turn their season around.

``It's very gratifying. You realize how much you love this game when you're away from it,'' Jurevicius said.

``On one hand you realize you won't be able to play forever. On the other hand, you want to play as long as you can. When you have injury after injury, stemming from one injury, it plays with your mind.''

An extremely private guy who briefly opened his life to the public when his son was born with a neurodegenerative disease during Tampa Bay's Super Bowl run two years ago, Jurevicius was poised to have a breakout season in 2003 before a torn knee ligament shut him down in the second game.

When he tried to come back too soon, he hurt the knee again and had surgery. Six months later, he developed a back problem that also required surgery and forced him to sit out the first six games of this season on the reserve/non-football injury list.

He never doubted he'd return and be a productive player again.

``The one thing I've learned is you've got to remain positive. Things don't always go your way,'' said Jurevicius, who adjusted his walk after knee surgery and is convinced that's what caused the bad back.

``For whatever reason, I didn't have a roadblock, I had a building in my path. I had to be patient. I had to work around things and stay focused on what I wanted to do _ and that was to get better and get on the field.''

The Bucs (4-6) are 3-1 since he returned, and the 29-year-old is coming off a five-catch, two-touchdown performance in a 35-3 rout of San Francisco. The TDs were his first since he scored two in last year's season opener at Philadelphia.

He celebrated one score against the 49ers by giving the ball to an Air Force captain standing behind the end zone. He did a little jig after the other TD, but kept the ball with plans with paint it pink and give it to his daughter, Caroline, born during training camp.

To me, my family is my priority. It's not football, family. It's family, football,'' Jurevicius said.But I'd be lying if I said one didn't motivate the other.''

The initials ``MWJ'' are tattooed on the receiver's left biceps in memory of his late son, Michael William, who was born during the playoffs in January 2003. The infant died a few weeks after the Bucs beat Oakland in the Super Bowl.

Jurevicius delivered arguably the biggest play in franchise history _ a 71-yard catch and run to set up a touchdown in the NFC Championship game.

He added four receptions for 78 yards in the Super Bowl, despite not being able to practice much while shuttling back and forth from the hospital to spend time with his wife, Meagan, and Michael.

Last Sunday, he felt his son was with him when he scored against the 49ers.

I've got an angel upstairs,'' Jurevicius said.Michael's my man. I always write the initial of his first name in the end zone before each game just so he can come for a ride with his dad.''

The Bucs hope last Sunday's performance is a sign of things to come. A big, physical receiver with a knack for gaining yards after the catch, Jurevicius has 11 receptions for 149 yards in four games.

And he's excited about the prospect of being more involved in the offense down the stretch. That possibility has coach Jon Gruden pumped, too.

``I keep telling him, it's about time. ... We missed him,'' Gruden said, adding that it's gratifying to see 14 months of hard work and rehabilitation pay off for the 6-foot-5, 230-pound receiver.

It's like a hurricane or storm. Sometimes it's bleak. Sometimes it's miserable. But you've got to believe the sun's going to come out again,'' Gruden said.It's a great story. It's hard to come back from multiple injuries. It's just a testament to what he's about.''

Jurevicius hurt his knee in a collision with teammate Mike Alstott, who injured his neck on the play and later had surgery for a herniated disk. The six-time Pro Bowl fullback got a close-up view of what the receiver went through to get back on the field.

``A lot of guys would have quit,'' Alstott said.

But thoughts of his children wouldn't let him, Jurevicius said.

The receiver noted doctors originally told him and his wife that Michael would only live 72 hours. Instead, the infant battled his illness for more than two months.

He never gave up. There are certain lessons to be learned from that,'' he said.A lot of them, I'll never let out. A lot of things that happened are personal, and I'm going to keep them that way.''

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