Easy, Gator fans, McCray apologizes

Published: Thursday, January 10, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 11:22 p.m.

Bobby McCray was stunned.

“Oh no!” he said. “They did that?”

On NBC's telecast of Jacksonville's playoff victory over Pittsburgh, the starters for both teams introduced themselves. When McCray's video came on, the former Florida defensive end announced not that he was from Florida but from Homestead High.

That left the Gator Nation a bit bewildered.

Here's a guy who does the Gator chomp after every sack and he's dissing his former school?

Not really.

“That was two years ago that we did that video,” McCray said. “Paul Spicer did his high school, too. We actually did two of them. I did one for Florida and one for my high school. My dad is the head coach there and I was just trying to get him some recognition.

“I gotta tell them to change that. I didn't know they were going to use that. The Gators are mad at me? We gotta get that corrected. I need to issue a formal apology to Gator fans. Tell ’em I'm coming back to Gainesville (this offseason). I'm a Gator. Look at my locker.”

In his Jaguars locker are all kinds of orange and blue paraphernalia, including a picture of McCray in his UF uniform.

In a way, it's fitting that McCray would be trying to explain something he feels was misinterpreted.

Hasn't it always been that way?

At Florida, we in the media often stayed away from McCray because he always had this look like he was going to treat us like an opposing quarterback.

“I always had the knock they tried to put on me that I was arrogant,” he said Wednesday. “They always said I growled and snarled when I walked by the media. They never talked to me.”

Despite 9.5 sacks as a senior, he was not named to the All-SEC first team, something that still bothers McCray.

“I thought I had a great senior year and got snubbed on the All-SEC team,” he said. “Maybe it was because I'd walk out of practice with a mean face. I do feel like I was misunderstood. I remember, right before the (2003) Miami game I was talking a lot of trash and they came back and beat us. It was humbling. I took out my gold teeth and became more humble. Reality kind of kicked in. I started letting the game come to me.”

If that was humbling, the 2004 NFL Draft was another kick in the gut. McCray watched team after team, pass on him round after round before he was taken in the seventh round by Jacksonville.

Seventh-round picks don't usually hang around too long.

“I was disappointed but it probably worked out for best,” he said. “It made me work a little harder. I'm sure there are some first-rounders who aren't playing anymore. But I was disappointed. I couldn't figure it out.”

There was more disappointment to come. After a breakout year with the Jaguars in 2006 when he recorded 10 sacks, he thought he should be compensated.

A restricted free agent, he was miffed that Jacksonville wasn't giving him a big contract and skipped conditioning workouts in the offseason. Eventually, McCray signed a one-year deal for $1.85 million.

So this was going to be his year, his contract season. Except that for much of the season, it wasn't.

McCray had no sacks going into the last three games of the regular season. But he finished with three in the last three regular-season games and had a huge sack-and-strip of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last week to clinch the Jaguars' victory.

His critics say he takes too many plays off, that he is difficult to block when he wants to give 100 percent but that the desire isn't always there. It's the same criticism he heard at Florida and it dogged him into the draft.

But now he is here playing some of his best football as Jacksonville prepares for a game against undefeated New England on Saturday night. And he knows this could be the game that allows him to receive a big deal this offseason.

“I gotta get something accomplished,” McCray said. "A lot of guys doing less than me are getting paid ridiculous amounts. I started slow. I wasn't making a lot of plays. I'm just trying to pick up a little slack.

“This is the setting you want to be in. Undefeated team, quarterback who wins Super Bowls, in their house, it's gonna be cold. It's the perfect stage to show what you can do.”

Which needs no interpretation.

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