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Bills' McGee a man of substance Cornerback prefers to let his actions do his talking for him

The quiet man of the Buffalo Bills isn't a "look at me" kind of player. No celebratory gestures after a tackle. No posing for the cameras after an interception.

For cornerback Terrence McGee, it's about substance, not style.

"I know the game's not over after that one play," he said. "If I go out there, make a tackle and dance or something like that and then get beat on an 80-yarder, that just makes me look like a fool.

"For a lot of people that works. It gets them hyped and helps them play through the game. But me, I just like to stay focused on what I'm doing. When I get home I can celebrate."

Don't take his mild manner for weakness. Try to catch a pass in his area and he'll fight you for it. Run the ball at him and he'll try to knock your block off.

"Terrence is a tough guy," Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "He is not a afraid of contact. I know a lot of cornerbacks will come and tell you, 'Hey, I'm good.' Terrence is not like that. He'd rather show you how good he is, and he does."

A full-time starter in five of his first six seasons, McGee has averaged 84 tackles since 2004 and has 16 career interceptions. From 2004 to '07, he was one of the league's dominant kickoff returners. He's the Bills' all-time leader in kickoff returns (206) and yards (5,420), and is one of 13 NFL players with five kick return touchdowns. His seven overall return TDs, including one on an interception and one on a fumble recovery, are another Bills record.

His return skills, which earned him a Pro Bowl berth in 2004, overshadowed his play at cornerback. While he lacks the publicity of more demonstrative cornerbacks, the recognition he gets from opponents is good enough for him.

"When you get guys after the game saying how much they respect how you play or guys from other teams saying good things about you, that's what it's all about for me," McGee said.

>Be like Bo

McGee isn't quiet because he's shy. It's just the way he is, according to his mother.

"He's nothing like his mother. He doesn't talk enough and I talk too much," Jackie Bailey joked. "When he comes home or we're riding somewhere, I'm doing most of the talking. He keeps a lot to himself."

Ron Raccuia, McGee's Buffalo-based agent, recalled their first meeting.

"He was terribly quiet," Raccuia said, laughing at the memory. "Here we are trying to market him, and I'm saying to myself, 'What do we do with this guy?' because we didn't know him. I knew he was a great player. It just took time to realize he was a great person, too."

Bailey said McGee was an active kid growing up in Athens, Texas. His favorite outdoor activities were football and baseball.

"He used to tell me he was going to be another Bo Jackson and play both sports," Bailey said.

McGee thought he was too small for football, so he quit playing it before his sophomore year and focused solely on fall and spring baseball at Athens High School.

McGee thought he was done with football. As it turned out, football wasn't done with him.

>High school hotshot

While practicing with the fall baseball team going into his junior year, McGee could see and hear the pads popping on the nearby football field. The more he watched, the more he wanted to be a part of it again.

"I missed that feeling of getting an interception, getting a touchdown," said McGee, who was a first-team, All-District shortstop by his senior season. "I just knew in my heart that baseball didn't give me the same feeling that football did. So after high school I really didn't pursue baseball any more."

McGee's return to football was a success. He became a two-time All-District cornerback and an all-state selection as a senior. After replacing the starting running back at midseason of his senior year, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards in only six games.

A few Division I-A colleges showed interest, but McGee hadn't taken a standardize test required for college admission. When he failed the initial test, most schools walked away. Only Division I-AA Northwestern State stood by him, and when he got the necessary test scores, he was off to Natchitoches, La.

>'Turtle' off and running

At Northwestern State, McGee acquired the nickname "Turtle" for his penchant for hiding his head under his jersey. But it didn't take long for him to come out of his shell.

A four-year starter, McGee had 192 tackles (142 solo), 11 interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 46 pass deflections, four forced fumbles and three recoveries in 43 games. He is one of the best punt returners in NCAA history, with a school-record 972 yards on 56 returns. His 17.4-yard career average is still a Football Championship Subdivision record.

After running the 40-yard dash in a disappointing 4.56 seconds at the NFL scouting combine, McGee posted a 4.4-second time at his school's Pro Day. That helped convince the Bills to draft him in the fourth round in 2003.

"We liked him," said Tom Modrak, the Bills' vice president of college scouting. "At that time, his kick return ability was a big item, but so was his defensive ability. When you're evaluating, you hope both areas check out and they did. It wasn't a hard call at the time. We were real happy to get him."

>Top of the charts

As if the culture change from the deep South to Buffalo and from Division I-AA to the NFL wasn't enough of a shock, McGee was stunned by the talent the Bills had at cornerback.

Watching Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements, McGee was hoping to just make the practice squad. But he was ready for the No. 1 corner spot after both Winfield (2004) and Clements (2007) left via free agency.

In 2004, he made the Pro Bowl after returning three kickoffs for touchdowns, including a team-record 104-yarder at Miami, and added 95 tackles and three interceptions. He posted another 90-tackle season with four interceptions in 2005, and became the first player in NFL history to return a kickoff and an interception for a touchdown in a game at Cincinnati on Christmas Eve.

McGee held his own last year against the likes of Randy Moss, Braylon Edwards and Brandon Marshall as the Bills assigned him to the opponent's top receiver.

"We always thought he could do it," said Fewell, who joined the Bills in 2006. "But we just weren't sure he was ready for that challenge yet the first year or two. And he's not a vocal guy, so you didn't know if he really wanted that challenge or not.

"When we said, 'Hey, you're our best guy,' and presented him with the challenge, his eyes just brightened up. He just took it and ran with it. I think it was just a matter of us showing that we believed in him and he did the rest of the work."

>A brother's love

Of all the games McGee has ever played in, none was more special than the Bills' 2007 game against the Dallas Cowboys. It was the first visit by Monday Night Football to Buffalo in 13 years.

But its significance for McGee was his older brother, Roderick, saw him play for the first time. Ever.

The elder McGee, 34, is in a Texas prison, having served 15 years of a 99-year sentence for carjacking. Terrence doesn't condone what his brother did, but he feels the punishment is excessive. He has hired high-powered attorneys from Western New York and Dallas to aid in Roderick's case.

"My brother to me is like my father," said Terrence, who visits Roderick regularly in the offseason. "He's the one person I can talk to about anything. No matter what I've been through, I could never know what he's gone through in his life the last 15 years. He's a big inspiration and he's my biggest fan."

In that Monday night game, McGee gave his big brother something to cheer about. Early in the third quarter, he returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown.

Then something amazing happened. McGee allowed himself a brief celebration. It was a rare show of emotion for a guy who keeps his feelings inside.

"I knew he was watching," McGee said of his brother. "I made sure I put a lot of writing on my tape. When I go visit him now, I'm a little celebrity. Inmates come up and congratulate me and talk about that Dallas game. So I've got a little respect in the prison system."

That respect also exists in Buffalo with all the charities McGee supports. It exists in Athens, where the hometown boy has made good by overcoming whatever obstacles stood in his way with quiet strength.

"There has been some tough times, but he hung in there," Bailey said. "But he knew what he wanted. He had a dream and a strong desire to not let anything get in the way of what he wanted."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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