QB Brian Griese has played in hostile environments before, and actually enjoyed the experience
File it under "Least Surprising Coincidences:" Brian Griese's first road game in his second stint as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting quarterback just happens to take him back to Chicago. Of course it does.
Griese played for the Bears the last two seasons before he was traded back to Tampa, where he was the Bucs' starter for roughly half of the 2004-05 seasons. During his stay in Chicago, the Bears' quarterback position was under constant scrutiny, as the team failed to find any lasting satisfaction with Griese, Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton at the helm.
Griese regained his job at the helm of the Buccaneers' attack just two games into the season. It's fair to say that the Bucs are pleased with his performance; it's also fair to say that the Chicago fans are likely to be less than charitable to him upon his return.
So how does Griese feel about walking back into Soldier Field as the enemy for his first road start of the year? Well, this is a man who skirted the Black Hole in Oakland wearing orange and blue – and loved it.
Soldier Field may be loud and unfriendly this weekend, but it won't be anything new to Griese or the Buccaneers.
"I remember back in my days in Denver playing in Oakland; it was really quite a show, quite a circus out there," said Griese. "And I enjoyed that. So I'm looking forward to Sunday afternoon in Soldier Field. It's just a great place for us to play."
"New Orleans was a loud place to play. There are other loud places to play. I look forward to those opportunities."
Besides, Griese actually has good memories of his time in Chicago, despite its unsatisfying conclusion. He speaks fondly of the coaching staff and still roots for his former teammates on most other weekends.
"I had a good two years in Chicago and made a lot of good friendships," he said. "I learned a lot playing football there. There are a lot of things that went into those decisions [at quarterback] and I don't pretend to know all of them. When I look back, I look back with fondness on my time there and the opportunity that they gave me to play. Unfortunately, we didn't get as good of result as we would have liked and I didn't get as good of a result as I would have liked. But I don't look back on that situation with anything but fondness."
That said, Griese is definitely in the place he wants to be now. It wasn't actually his decision to come back to Tampa – the Bucs made that move by trading the Bears a draft pick back in March – but the end result was fine with him. Two years earlier, he had been much less pleased when the Buccaneers released him just prior to free agency in a salary cap-related move. The Bucs wanted to keep Griese, but had also committed to Chris Simms and weren't able to offer Griese what the Bears put on the table.
Griese may have enjoyed his time in Chicago, but his first choice would have been to stay in Tampa.
"I never wanted to leave here," he said. "I loved it here. I love the organization and the town and the fans and never wanted to leave. Any time you get released it's not a good thing. I don't know if you have ever been fired but I have now, a couple times, and it's not a good experience.
"I'm really happy to be here in Tampa. I look forward to the rest of this season with the guys here. Like I said, I have a lot of great friendships in Chicago, guys that I still communicate with."
Of course, the trip to Chicago will be a lot more enjoyable for Griese and his teammates if they can emerge with a victory. The Buccaneers won Griese's first start of the year, a 24-9 decision over Atlanta at Raymond James Stadium last Sunday. The team came out hot – Griese's third pass of the game was a touchdown – and finished strong but the offense bogged down a bit in the middle of the game. A series of penalties and miscues, and a few missed opportunities downfield, countered any gains the offense was able to make.
The Bucs will almost certainly have to be more efficient on offense this week if they hope to get a win in hostile territory.
"We need more out of every position on offense, to be honest with you," said Griese. "I need to play better, we all need play better. But I think we're committed to that and I think we're learning from some of the mistakes that we've made and some of the penalties that we've made and the fact that we've stopped ourselves as of late. We're working on those things. I think if you asked any man on offense he'd say that his position needs to get better."
That's the sort of challenge that most NFL players thrill to, and not coincidentally the Bucs had a very strong week of practice leading up to Sunday's game. Like most of his teammates, Griese thrives on a good challenge, which is the only way to explain someone viewing the experience of being the enemy in Soldier Field as "fun."
"It's going to be fun for me," Griese insisted. "I'm really looking forward to it. Chicago is a great place to play football. The fans there are tremendous and it's a great environment. For me to be going back to play against a lot of the friends that I have made will be a lot of fun. I'm going to enjoy it to the fullest. I'm going to prepare for the best of my ability this week and try to put our team in the best position to make plays and win the game and enjoy it."