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A winless Jet earlier this year, Steve McLendon is now in the Super Bowl

Tampa Bay Buccaneers nose tackle Steve McLendon against

Tampa Bay Buccaneers nose tackle Steve McLendon against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 13, 2020. Credit: AP/Mark LoMoglio

Steve McLendon looks back on his time with the Jets fondly and looks forward to playing in his first Super Bowl on Sunday.

The Jets traded McLendon to Tampa Bay following their Week 6 loss in Miami. After the game, he was driven to Tampa. The 35-year-old McLendon was grateful because he knew he was joining a team that had a chance to do something special.

"My first impression was it was a veteran team that was building something really good here," McLendon said. "I just wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to win a championship. I wanted to have an opportunity to win a championship.

"When I found out about the trade, I was like I most definitely have an opportunity to play in the championship game."

McLendon found out before the game, but he still played. A captain and one of the most respected players on the Jets, McLendon wanted to battle one last time with his teammates.

McLendon began his career with the Steelers and signed with the Jets in 2016. He experienced a lot of losing in his four-plus seasons with the Jets. They were 0-6 after the Miami loss. But McLendon always remained upbeat and continued to try to be a positive influence on his young teammates.

McLendon’s approach and professionalism helped him get to Tampa.

The Jets felt it was the right thing to move the veteran to a winning situation. They got a sixth-round pick for him. And former Jets coach Todd Bowles, the Buccaneers defensive coordinator, said he "stood on the table" to bring in McLendon, believing he could help the team.

"When he told me he stood on the table for me, I just wanted to let him know every single day I wouldn’t let him down," McLendon said. "I really appreciate him."

Despite all the losing, McLendon said his experience with the Jets was positive overall. He viewed everything as a chance to learn and get better as a football player and a man. But he never lost sight of his main goal, and that was to compete for a championship.

"My time with the Jets was amazing," McLendon said. "When I came here, these guys are eager. They’re eager to win. They’re eager to win now and they’re eager to win the championship. They put the necessary time in.

"The bond and the culture here is unmatched. Just a bunch of brothers playing together."

New York Sports