This is every
boy's dream, assuming you're the kind of boy who'd watch the Browns on TV in
your parents' garage, the door open to simulate stadium seating in 20� weather,
eat dog bones when Earnest Byner scored, then run out to the curb barking like
a fool, or rather, like the hundred or so other kids on your street howling at
the same Cleveland moon just climbing out of Lake Erie in Sunday's
snot-crackling dusk. How many of those kids, out of that vast, howling,
adolescent Dawg Pound, dared dream of wearing that orange helmet? Most? All?
How many of them ever got to pull on that brown jersey and run onto the field,
their family and old schoolmates woof-ing from the stands in 20� weather?
Maybe just Joe
Jurevicius, a man seemingly so charmed that his fellow Lithuanians ought to
consider his likeness in place of the Vytis, the White Knight coat of arms that
has historically represented their national heroism. Jurevicius (who indeed has
the Vytis tattooed on his right biceps) is just one of those guys for whom
things seem to fall into place. He is entering his ninth NFL season, well
beyond the requirements of a successful career, and while he's not going to be
confused with Jerry Rice (maybe not even with Browns teammate Braylon Edwards),
he has been both good enough and lucky enough to play for three Super Bowl
teams, which is about three more than most players.
And now here he
is, signed away from the Seattle Seahawks (Super Bowl team III) as a free agent
in March, trying on the orange and brown, imagining himself catching passes,
just like his man Webster Slaughter two decades ago. Was it that long ago (yes,
it was) that Jurevicius and his dad would go down the street to Lakeland
Community College to watch the Browns' training camp? He met Dave Logan while
in kindergarten! Shook Greg Pruitt's hand! At Lake Catholic High in Mentor he
ran his routes as if Brian Sipe were delivering the bombs.
Let's try to put
it another way, for you folks who don't live in Cleveland. Jurevicius remembers
coming home during a bye week at Penn State--this was during that strange
three-year period when Cleveland was without a team--and realizing that the
fans were nevertheless tailgating at old Municipal Stadium. "On Friday
night!" he says. And he remembers a guy tooling around in an orange Chevy,
white stripes down the middle, the top down, brown flags flapping in the wind.
Jurevicius, no slouch when it comes to devotion, was impressed. Buddy, he
thought, you have no team.
So imagine his
homecoming--the whole extended clan in the stands, uncles, nieces, a
grandmother who made it out of the Displaced Persons camps all those years ago,
the gang from the Lithuanian club on East 185th Street. Imagine the friends in
the stands as well and even those fans from Lake Catholic who'd pestered his
mother for tickets to high school games 15 years ago. You don't have to be a
Cleveland fan to recognize the miracle of Jurevicius's return. Back in Tampa
(Super Bowl team II) Jurevicius was flabbergasted to see that the kids at The
Angelus, a charitable outfit to which he lends his name and time, had dog
biscuits on the trays of their wheelchairs when he showed up for a visit.
"They don't even know who the Cleveland Browns are," he says,
Jurevicius play football--tall and rangy, catches everything he touches--is not
to understand him. Well, it is, a little bit. He's exactly the blue-collar
athlete you'd expect from a long line of Cleveland factory workers. He works
his position like an assembly-line station. "Dependability," says
Browns general manager Phil Savage, describing Jurevicius' appeal. "Someone
to be a mentor to Edwards and a fairly young receivers corps. And, you know, he
did score 10 touchdowns last year."
The Browns need
every touchdown they can get, but Jurevicius is hardly the kind of player teams
are built around. It wasn't until last year that he started more than nine
games or scored more than four touchdowns in a season. In fact, looking at his
numbers, it's hard to see why teams might get excited about him, especially
when age (31) and infirmity (knee and back problems caused him to miss 17 games
in 2003 and '04, and he was placed on the NFL scrap heap; he signed with
Seattle for the veteran's minimum in '05) are factored in.
Yet he does win,
he does make big plays. He finished off last season, probably his best, with a
Super Bowl haul of five catches for 93 yards. And in Tampa they're still
talking about his 71-yard catch-and-run that helped the Bucs upset the
Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC title game in January 2003. But let's say you
were watching Jurevicius play in that particular game. Well, no way you
In that game, and
in the Super Bowl that followed a week later in San Diego, Jurevicius was more
the bewildered young man--as much puzzled as wounded by destiny--than an NFL
wide receiver. The circumstances were extreme, of course, his prematurely born
son, Michael, lying in a prenatal-care unit thousands of miles away, dying of a
rare cell disease. But then Jurevicius is by his nature given more to quiet
reflection. Just the way he is.
Jurevicius preferred fishing as a young man, until Kerry Collins, his teammate
with the New York Giants (Super Bowl team I), lured him into a Carolina tree
stand, just to see if he liked it. "You're just standing there,"
Jurevicius says, "and a cardinal lands on your foot." He liked it and
embarked on a series of hunts, working his way up to big game on the eastern
cape of South Africa last year. He became serious enough about hunting that he
and John Howell, his teammate in Seattle and Tampa Bay, went in together on a
60,000-acre working cattle ranch in Nebraska, where they, and eventually their
well-heeled clients, can scour the sand hills around the Dismal River for