Buccaneers C Jeff Faine is heading back to his former haunt for his first regular-season game in a Tampa Bay uniform
When the 2008 NFL schedule was released back in April, Tampa Bay Buccaneers' players, coaches and fans eagerly scanned the list to see when and where the team would take on the 16 opponents that stood between it and a repeat of its NFC South title.
Many eyebrows were surely raised by the very first game on the slate: a critical road game against the division rival New Orleans Saints. But perhaps no one was more intrigued than starting center Jeff Faine.
One of the more dominant young players in the league at his position, Faine left New Orleans as a free agent this offseason and headed back to his home state of Florida to join the Buccaneers. What a coincidence, then, that his first regular-season game in pewter and red will be right back in his former home stadium, the Superdome. Despite the familiar faces and sights he'll see as the Bucs head to Louisiana for Sunday's contest, Faine is doing his best not to get too caught up in the moment.
"I thought it was kind of ironic to see New Orleans on the schedule for the first game of the year," Faine said earlier this week. "But I really just have to approach it as another opponent. I'm definitely going to see a lot of familiar faces and I definitely have a little bit of insight on some of the personal things with those guys, but for the most part I've just really got to take it as another game."
As much as he tries to downplay the matchup against his former team, Faine still has plenty of ties to the area and had plenty of thoughts and prayers for New Orleans as Hurricane Gustav blew through the bayou earlier in the week.
"I definitely felt for them," Faine said. "I still have property there. I still have my house there, so it's definitely a big deal still. New Orleans definitely could not have taken another traumatic hit like Katrina was, probably not for another 50 years. [Katrina] definitely was catastrophic, and I'm excited and happy for the fans and the people there that they didn't have to rebuild the city again. It's something that everybody should appreciate."
While the post-hurricane situation in the city is much different than when Katrina hit in 2005, emotions will be running high inside the Superdome as the Saints fans return to the city and look to cheer their team on to a season-opening victory over a division rival. Faine said he and his teammates will be doing their best to silence the crowd and feed off the energy in their own way.
"A home game in New Orleans is a home game in New Orleans," Faine said. "But it's going to be a special event, especially because the entire city is coming back and is going to get back into their houses and be into the Superdome. It's going to be a big deal.
Even though Faine is trying to approach the matchup as "just another game," that label still holds a slightly different meaning for him than for most players. Carrying a reputation as a mauler and one of the most physical players in the league from whistle to whistle, a typical game for Faine routinely includes some intense one-on-one showdowns.
And, although he'll be lined up against some familiar faces on the other side of the ball, Faine won't be holding back just because he knows most of his opponents on a personal level.
"I play with the same fire every game," Faine said. "It just depends on what I get back from the other guy and how chippy it gets. I come with the same intensity regardless.
"Physical play is part of the game. It's something that you've got to appreciate and something you've got to enjoy. It's a part of the game that makes it a little different than any other job."
As the Saints' former center, Faine is intimately familiar with their offensive scheme and much of their personnel. But he said his coaches in Tampa Bay are every bit as versed in what the Saints try to accomplish on offense and didn't need to rely on him for any scouting reports.
"These guys, they've got it," Faine said of the Bucs' coaching staff. "They've been playing this team year in, year out, two times a year. There's really nothing much I can bring, other than just knowing the guys personally. The scheme – they've got it down. There's really nothing I can tell them."
He does know one thing though – the Saints will be every bit as prepared and pumped as the Bucs are to kick the season off against an NFC South foe.
"It's definitely going to be a huge game for them," Faine said. "It's a major emphasis from [Head] Coach [Sean] Payton to get up for division opponents, as it is for every head coach in the NFL. It's a big-time game, especially to start the season off in the right way, against a division opponent, against an NFC opponent, and against a rival."