WR Tim Brown is one touchdown catch shy of 100 on his career
For Tim Brown, the most difficult part of Sunday night's game in Oakland could come just after the player introductions, when it's time to join his team at the bench for the start of the game.
Will he make the right turn?
"I am just worried about what bench I am going to go to," joked the long-time Raider. "I'm just trying not to go to the wrong bench. If I can accomplish that during the night it will be alright."
Brown, a certain Hall-of-Famer, spent 16 years in Oakland before joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during training camp this summer. Actually, that's not completely accurate. Brown's stay with the Raiders was so long that he actually played seven years in Los Angeles before the franchise moved back to the Bay area. He could be forgiven if he saw silver-and-black on one sideline and instinctively moved in that direction.
The Bucs and Raiders will play this Sunday night in Oakland, meeting for the first time since Super Bowl XXXVII, won 48-21 by Tampa Bay while Brown was still on that other sideline. The Bucs haven't met Oakland in the regular season since 1999, but of course it took only three games into Brown's tenure with his new team to match him up against his old one.
The Buccaneers are finding out that Brown is candid, straightforward and cliché-free. Refreshingly, he is not trying to claim that Sunday's game means nothing to him besides the final score. Still, a little sideline confusion aside, Brown has no doubt that he'll be able to handle the distractions.
"It's easy to say you don't [care], but when it is all said and done, those are going to be the memories I am going to take with me," he said. "The reaction I get when they hear my name for the first time, when they hear my name for the last time; those are the memories I am going to take with me. It's going to be a special night in a lot of ways.
"I am not going to shy away from anything this week. I am going to deal with every situation and just be really to play football. That's the most important thing here, especially with the team being 0-2. It's sort of a good situation for me, so I can really focus on what I need to do to help this team."
Brown came to the Buccaneers after being released by Oakland this summer in what was basically a mutual decision. New Head Coach Norv Turner was installing an offense that, in Brown's opinion, wouldn't have made much use of his skills. Because he expected to be somewhat of a bit player in that attack had he stayed, Brown doesn't believe he has anything to prove upon his return. And, of course, 14,806 receiving yards, second most in NFL history, say Brown doesn't have anything to prove, period.
That being said, Brown still expects to have a big game.
"I think the 60 minutes of football is going to be probably the best of my career," he said. "I am just going back to help this team win. I think it is going to be a lot of fun."
The Bucs need a win after starting the season 0-2 for the first time since 1998. Their two losses have been similar: low-scoring, hard-fought affairs in which the Bucs fell behind early, rallied late but ultimately came up short. Tampa Bay's defense is ranked third in the league, it's offense third-to-last. It's obvious that the offense needs to find its way for the Bucs to get back in the winning column. Brown, who is second on the team with 11 catches for 72 yards so far, could be a big part of that. He is one touchdown shy of the 100th of his career; rounding off that number in Oakland would be special for Brown and extremely helpful for the Bucs' attack.
Head Coach Jon Gruden said he does want to get the ball into Brown's hands.
"We're trying," he said. We're trying to get all our guys involved. We're trying to move the ball and score points. The stat sheet is what it is. We've got to find a way to score one more point than the other team and get ourselves on track."
They'll have to do so in a hostile environment, a phrase that takes on an almost literal meaning in Oakland. When Gruden remembers specific fans with names like 'The Terminator' and 'Axe-Grinder,' you know you're in for a different kind of experience. Brown, one of the most accomplished players in the team's rich history, thinks he'll get a mixed welcome from those fans, depending on the time of the evening.
"They are Raider fans; they love their team," he said. "I expect them to be very boisterous towards us. Before the game, I expect a little love. After the game, I expect a lot of love. During the game, I am keeping my helmet on."
He'll have at least one little pocket of support in the stands. Members of Brown's family will be on hand, and they won't be splitting their allegiances.
"They will be in black and red, you can bet that," he said. "There won't be any silver and black mixed in. My dad had to throw his Raider hat away. It took him a long time, but he finally did it."
And Brown had to trade in his silver-and-black helmet. Still, he may not remember that at certain points in the heat of the action on Sunday night.
"I played in Oakland for nine years," he said. "The tendency to get off the ground after catching the ball and want to go to that sideline is just what I am going to be used to doing, so I am going to be having to think about those little things I don't usually think about during the football game."