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An unlikely MVP, Jackson finds happiness working with kids

When you win the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player award, you go to Disneyland or Disney World. It began with Giants quarterback Phil Simms in 1986, and that is how it has worked since.

You're the MVP. You shoot the commercial at the end of the game -- "I'm going to Disneyland!" -- minutes later, it's on the air. Everybody goes.

Well, except Dexter Jackson. He told me this week how the league decided to select then-Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Brad Johnson for the honor after the Bucs manhandled the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.

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It sort of became a controversial subject in the time directly following the game, and Jackson came up with a backup plan.

"I was doing a phone interview and told the guys I was headed to Six Flags with my family," Jackson said. "Well, Six Flags heard about it, said come on out to California so that's what happened."

And that's how it went for Jackson. His two interceptions helped vault Tampa Bay to a 48-21 victory, and because of the Bucs' defensive talent, it wasn't a suprise the MVP came from that side of the ball. But no one thought it would be Jackson.

Except the eventual winner.

"The day before the Super Bowl everyone was making their MVP predictions, it was crazy," Jackson said. "I told a cameraman 'Do me a favor, turn this camera on.' And he did, and I told him I would win MVP, the score, everything. We talked about that tape for a long time after."

Jackson only was doing the boasting facetiously. He didn't really contemplate being the MVP, focusing solely on winning the game instead.

"I didn't think about it until (Bucs safety) John Lynch came up behind me and grabbed me and yelled 'You're the MVP!' " Jackson said.

The strange part of that game is that there were players with better stats. Dwight Smith actually had two interceptions as well -- both returned for TDs -- but one came with the game well out of reach. Michael Pittman ran for 124 yards, and Johnson threw for 215 and two scores.

But Jackson's plays set the tone that day, and he won thanks to the online "fan vote." The final margin came from the four fan votes he got. If it wasn't for that, defensive end Simeon Rice would have won. Yes, technology can be wonderful sometimes.

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Jackson parlayed his MVP award into a free-agent deal with Arizona after nearly signing with the Steelers. Pittsburgh instead picked Troy Polamalu in the ensuing draft to fill its safety slot -- not a bad consolation prize. Jackson rejoined Tampa Bay in 2004 before finishing his career in Cincinnati in 2009.

Jackson's main focus now is with an Tampa-area group called Mental Heath Care, Inc. Jackson's worked with non-profit organizations for children since college, and you can hear the importance of it in his voice.

The organization is a children's crisis center that helps suicidal, aggressive and at-risk youth. Jackson said there's not nearly enough help for kids in need, and I get the feeling that he'd be doing exactly the same thing he is now regardless of any Super Bowl MVP award.

In the end, it makes sense. He was a safety then, and he's a safety now.

See Jason Smith writes Fantasy and other NFL pith on daily. Talk to him on Twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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