Even On A Quiet Day, Keyshawn Generates Noise
The Tampa Tribune, published 27 October 2003

After the boos and before kickoff Sunday, Keyshawn Johnson ran a crisp, clean pattern to the visitors' sideline to shake the hand of his favorite football coach. The boos that accompanied his introduction and the pregame handshake with Cowboys coach Bill Parcells were not unrelated.

And although it may have been only coincidence on a day the Bucs stuck with the run, the relatively quiet day that followed for the Pro Bowl receiver might not have been unrelated, either. Three passes were thrown his way in Tampa Bay's 16-0 victory. By contrast, 11 of Brad Johnson's 26 attempts were thrown toward Keenan McCardell. It wasn't a freeze-out, exactly, but Bucs coach Jon Gruden elicited postgame laughter with this crisp, clean assessment: ``Keyshawn's the first option on every play.''

Naturally, one of the three passes thrown in Keyshawn's direction became the game's only touchdown. Even that wasn't precisely as designed, though - Michael Pittman was the first receiving option on the play. The 7-yard TD with 4:23 to play in the second quarter was Johnson's only reception, the 280th of his Bucs career, moving him to fourth on the team's all-time list and giving him at least one catch in 116 consecutive games. Afterward, Johnson spoke of his relationship with Parcells, his diminished role in Sunday's game and his lack of interest in public opinion.

The pregame handshake, sandwiched with a postgame handshake with Parcells as time expired, was just a simple salutation to an old friend. ``I hadn't had an opportunity to talk to him in pregame, and I don't talk to head coaches after the game, so I just went over before the game and said hey,'' Johnson said. ``It was the first opportunity I've had to see him since the offseason.''

No message intended, then, and certainly not a surprise after Johnson, in answer to a question during the week, cited Parcells as the coach he'd most like on the sideline with one game to win. ``I like the coach that I like,'' Johnson said. ``That's the bottom line.''

Johnson said he wasn't disappointed with his quiet day. The victory, and the six points he contributed, were enough. Besides, everyone who blocked during Pittman's 113-yard day on the ground deserved some credit. And Johnson did block. ``They wanted me to block the defensive ends and the linebackers to get on the edge,'' Johnson said. ``So, I do my part, do what they ask me to do and the result is Pittman having a big day because our offensive line did a good job in front of him.''

As for the catcalls during the introduction, Johnson insisted he didn't even hear it. ``Was there? I really had no idea,'' Johnson said. ``If I get caught up in worrying about the fans, then I'll drive myself crazy.''

Neither, apparently, does he worry about the various talking heads of the NFL pregame shows. ESPN's Steve Young blasted Johnson on Sunday, saying he couldn't remember when ESPN had done a feature on the former Pro Bowler that was based on performance. ``If you're a great player, I don't believe you need a special little role playing from a coach or from a system to be great,'' Young said. ``Sounds to me like he's begging to be great and needs help.''

He didn't get much help Sunday. Yet, there he was, in the end zone, the boos evaporated, the Tuna flap momentarily forgiven. ``This is news. This is headlines. It sells tickets. You watch the 10 o'clock news,'' Johnson said. ``This is what this is. To me, it's not out of the norm, not a big deal to me. I really don't care. I've never worried about what the hell anybody says. It doesn't bother me. And I'm going to continue to stay that way.''