WR Tim Brown acknowledged the cheering Oakland crowd after his 100th career touchdown catch
It took nearly 50 minutes of game time on Sunday, but finally the boos turned to cheers at Network Associates Coliseum.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit to Oakland for Sunday night's game against the Raiders promised many opportunities for emotional catharses, most of them of the venting variety. Raider fans were given the chance to boo Jon Gruden, deride Rickey Dudley and send catcalls in Charlie Garner's direction. They didn't even sound too upset when Garner was carted off the field with a knee injury.
But five minutes into the fourth quarter, the Coliseum crowd visited a loud, sustained cheer on one visiting Buccaneer.
Seems the feelings for Tim Brown are still quite warm in the Bay area, even in the chilly confines of the Black Hole.
With less than 11 minutes left in the game and the Bucs facing a first-and-15 at the Oakland 16, Brown lined up on the left side, going in motion just before the snap. As he reached the end of the offensive line, Brown shot through a gap between two players, gave an out move to the Oakland defender in the area and cut inside and up to the goal line. He got a step on the defender and Johnson hit him in stride with an easy little lob pass, the Bucs' first offensive touchdown of the season.
It was a milestone moment for Brown, all the more fitting because it happened in Oakland, where he spent the balance of his Hall of Fame career. The catch was the 100th touchdown reception of his career, making him just the third player ever to reach that milestone.
That fact was quickly displayed on the stadium videoboards, and the Oakland crowd showered Brown with cheers. In the week leading up to the Oakland trip, Brown had said he expected a good reception from the fans before and after the contest but no kind words during the game. That guess didn't factor in his milestone touchdown, however.
When he heard the response, Brown was appreciative but not startled.
"I've had such a great relationship with the fans for so long, it would have been a really surprising turn of events for them to all of a sudden start booing me," he said. "I wasn't surprised at all that they were cheering me. They sent me off the way I thought they would send me off. They know I'll be back three or four years from now doing something here. It was good to have that relationship with them."
Brown caught four passes for 41 yards in the game, all of them on that drive. With the Bucs desperately trying to crawl back into the game after falling behind 30-6 in the third quarter, quarterback Brad Johnson looked to the proven veteran again and again on the team's first touchdown drive.
In the span of six snaps, Brown caught four passes for 41 yards and that history-making touchdown. Just before his score, Brown worked free on the right side for a 13-yard catch on third-and-11, getting the ball down to the 11-yard line. His catch on the second play of the fourth quarter was his first of the game, extending his personal streak of games with at least one reception to 175, the longest in the NFL. Former teammate Jerry Rice did own the league's longest streak before the previous weekend, when he failed to record a catch against Buffalo, snapping a run of 274 straight games.
Brown shared a locker room with Rice for three years in Oakland, and the two were key parts of the league's top-ranked offense in 2002, the year the Raiders advanced to the Super Bowl before losing to the Buccaneers. Brown was preparing for a 17th season with the Raiders when they mutually decided upon his release near the beginning of training camp. The Bucs quickly signed Brown and inserted him into the starting lineup.
And, sure enough, just three games into his career on the opposite side of the country, Brown was headed back to Oakland.
That led to some unusual moments, such as his first steps into the visiting locker room on Sunday night – he had been there just one other time, to visit former Raider teammate Marcus Allen after Allen's move to Kansas City – and the pregame introductions that sent him out of a different tunnel.
Despite his pregame worries about where he would turn after running onto the field, Brown did manage to go to the right sideline.
"I tell you what, I had to think about it, though," said Brown with a laugh. "It was tough when I first ran out there. All tendencies said stop right there. I just followed the white shirts and went to the right bench."
It wasn't, as it turned out, the winning bench. The Buccaneers dropped to 0-3 with a 30-20 loss to Brown's former team, putting his new squad into a difficult position. Few teams have ever rebounded from an 0-3 start to make the playoffs, but Brown thinks the Bucs have that capability.
"From what I've seen since I've been around here and the work ethic of these guys, I think we've got more than enough to get it done," he said. "Tonight was good on one end: At least we got some offense going and moved the ball up and down the field. We know what we can and can't do. From here on out, people have already written us off, so we might as well go out with our guns blazing. I'm looking forward to the rest of the year. I think it's going to be a very special year in Buc country."
Tampa Bay fans certainly hope so. For Brown, at least, it was a special night Sunday in Oakland. And, as the cheers of an otherwise hostile crowd attest, it has been a special career.