During a preseason virtual team meeting, a Jets coach put up an image of the Lombardi Trophy along with Raymond James Stadium, the site of this year’s Super Bowl.
Veteran defensive lineman Steve McLendon took a screenshot of the image with his phone, storing it as a symbol of his goal.
“I just said I’m going to play there,” McLendon told The Post in a phone interview this week. “I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew I was going to play there. When I got the call in Week 6 about the trade, the image popped right back up on my phone, and I was like, ‘This is my opportunity.’ ”
The Jets traded McLendon to the Buccaneers, giving him a chance at his Super Bowl dream. It was clear the Jets were going nowhere, but now McLendon was going to a team with Tom Brady at quarterback and a shot at the Lombardi Trophy. Three months later, McLendon is getting ready for Sunday’s Super Bowl 2021.
It is a remarkable step in the NFL journey of the 35-year-old McLendon.
After beginning his career with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2010, McLendon signed with the Jets in 2016. He experienced a lot of losing in green, and the team shipped him to Tampa Bay in October for a sixth-round pick in 2022. Jets general manager Joe Douglas told McLendon about the trade the day before the Jets faced the Dolphins in Miami. McLendon told Douglas he wanted one last game with his Jets teammates.
“We still had a game. I told them I wanted to focus on the game,” McLendon said. “To me, I don’t like to start something that I’m not going to finish. It was more about the guys than me sitting out, so I didn’t sit out. I wasn’t playing for coaches or the owner. I was playing for those guys because we prepared all week long. That was my mindset.”
The Jets lost to the Dolphins 24-0 to fall to 0-6. After saying goodbye to his teammates, he jumped into a waiting car and was driven across the state to Tampa. Former Jets coach Todd Bowles lobbied for the Buccaneers to get McLendon after star defensive lineman Vita Vea was injured.
“I’m so happy for Steve,” Bowles said. “For him to come from 0-6 when he came to our team at the time and end up going to the Super Bowl for him, I couldn’t be happier for him because he’s a great guy, he’s a great leader. He’s helped us out a great deal, especially with Vita hurt. Just seeing the smile on his face is good enough for me.”
After the Super Bowl, McLendon will return to Georgia, where he owns Team MVP Gym. McLendon said he’s looking forward to training athletes there again. But not before one more game, one he has been envisioning for a long time.