McFarland Not Forgotten

January 25 - One of the few sour notes during Tampa Bay's 2002 campaign was the way its starting nose tackle's season ended. While Anthony McFarland will not play in the Super Bowl on Sunday, his teammates and coaches insist he played a big part in getting them to San Diego.

One of the sadder stories of the year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the saga of defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland. The first round draft of the Pewter Pirates in 1999 – the 15th overall selection - was starting to come into his own as a force that offensive coordinators had to plan when they played the Bucs. Now, after a season ending injury on December 15th in Detroit, he's become the forgotten man of the Pewter Pirates defense.

The 2002 campaign, from a personal standpoint, has gone from a dream to a nightmare for the former Louisiana State University alumni. McFarland started the first eight games for the Pewter Pirates at nose tackle and performed admirably. He had 28 tackles with 12 of them of the solo variety. He had 1.5 sacks and was starting to hit a groove at mid season.

Then disaster hit in the ninth game at Carolina against the Panthers. While chasing a play he ran into quarterback Randy Fasani, who was starting due to injuries to starter Rodney Peete and back up Chris Weinke, and broke his forearm. About as unlucky an injury as you can get but one that the 6-footer would overcome .

He spent four weeks on the inactive list due to the injury before returning to the starting lineup for the home rematch with the Atlanta Falcons. He came back with a three-tackle performance, one of those a solo hit, and even had a pass defensed. He backed that performance with two more tackles, one a solo shot, against the Lions in Detroit but, during the game, bad luck struck the 25-year old again.

This time the 4th year pro not only hurt the same forearm again but also did damage to his foot. Two days later, on December 17th, the Bucs put him one injured reserve and ended his season.

Although the Winnsboro, Louisiana native has been out of sight to Buccaneers fans he hasn't been far away from the minds and hearts of the players. Fellow defensive tackle Warren Sapp knows that his running mate is going through some hard times, especially now the Bucs are playing in Super Bowl XXXVII, but No. 99 has let him know that he's still part of the club. He may not be on the field in uniform this Sunday but he'll be with them in spirit when the ball is kicked off in San Diego at 3:00 Pacific Time.

"I went down to the mall and I saw a hat that said Booger on it," Sapp stated. "I had to get for my man. I had to get it for him. We have talked about this all week long. It's eating at him. I know it is. He knows that he a part of our soul. He's a part of that mongrel group that we call the rushers. He sits in the meeting with us. He helps us out on the field. He watches us and does different things for us. He really hates being hurt."

Assistant head coach and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli has been signing the praises of his 300 pound protege since the beginning of training camp. According to the guru of the pass rush to even think that the Bucs would be in San Diego without the exploits of No. 92 in the 10 games that he played are ludicrous .

"It's brutal on him," Marinelli stressed. "I talk to him every day to make sure that he understands the impact that he has had on our football team. This team is not here, right now, without Anthony McFarland. The way he played early in the year was huge. He was an impact player for us then."

Considering that the Bucs will be lining up with 21 of the 22 players that they want to on Super Bowl Sunday is amazing. To Anthony McFarland, that one guy who can't answer the bell, this will be a Super Bowl that he can only play in his mind although he would rather be down-and-dirty with his teammates at Qualcomm Stadium.

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All photos are courtesy of Pewter Report director of photography Cliff Welch unless otherwise noted.

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