Old habits are hard to shake, so Tim Brown has reason to worry that at some point during Sunday night's Bucs-Raiders game he will become disoriented.
Oops, wrong sideline.
Brown spent 16 seasons with the Raiders, an eternity by today's transient NFL standards, before joining the Bucs in August. His return to the Black Hole wearing pewter and red could cause some confusion, not only for Brown as he heads toward the visitor's bench, but for typically hard-edged Raiders fans so accustomed to cheering for Brown.
He was "Mr. Raider."
"I've never been an emotional type guy who got all wound up. This may be a different situation for me," said Brown, 38. "You try to think, "How are you going to feel?' But I can't say, "Remember back when ' I've never been in this situation before.
"So, I'm just going to try to make sure I keep myself ready to play football. That's the most important thing. I'm looking forward to the 60 minutes of football, but the pregame and postgame could be a tough situation."
During his tenure with the Raiders, Brown was as much the face of the franchise as defensive tackle Warren Sapp was for nine seasons in Tampa Bay. In a bizarre case of trading places, each faces his former team Sunday, though the encounter likely will be more emotional for Brown.
Sapp will line up against a Bucs offense with six new starters. Brown will run routes against familiar foes. But beyond the playing field, Brown is going home to the stadium he played in for nine seasons, to the community he loved and fans who loved him.
"I know that people are always going to look at me as being Mr. Raider. It's just the way it is," Brown said. "My wife hates the fact I still talk about my ex-girlfriends sometimes, but it's a part of who I am, why I am the man that I am.
"I'm never going to say I'm not a part of the organization anymore because I know as soon as I'm done playing, every Raider person that possibly can is going to be pulling me back that way to try to get me to do something out there."
A Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame, Brown was a first-round draft pick of the Raiders in 1988. He caught 1,070 passes for 14,734 yards and 99 touchdowns. He appeared in a franchise-record nine Pro Bowls, the first as a rookie, the last in 2001. Players came and retired, coaches came and were fired.
Always, there was Brown.
"The fact that he played here for so long and had so much success and was such a key part of the success the organization had during his tenure speaks volumes of him," said Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, who delivered Brown's 1,000th career catch on Dec. 2, 2002. "Off the field, what kind of person he was and what he did in the community he's very well respected out here, not only among the players but certainly the fans."
This year, something changed.
Owner Al Davis hired coach Norv Turner, who installed a new offense featuring young, speedy receivers. Brown, whose trademark was 5- to 15-yard intermediate routes, did not fit the mold. During training camp, Brown said, Turner told him his role would be limited to as few as 10 snaps a game, that some weeks he might be inactive. Brown asked to be released. His tenure with the Raiders ended with a somber news conference.
On Aug. 10, he signed a one-year contract with the Bucs for the league-minimum salary for veterans, $760,000. Reunited with Jon Gruden, who coached the Raiders from 1998-2001, Brown is a starter with the Bucs' injury-riddled receiving corps.
"I don't think I am going back to prove anything. I am just going back to help this team win," said Brown, who had 13 catches for 72 yards in the first two games. "I think it's going to be a lot of fun. I think the 60 minutes of football is going to be probably the best of my career."
If Brown finds the end zone _ a pretty big "if" considering the Bucs offense has not scored a touchdown this season _ it would be his 100th career touchdown reception.
"That's something to talk about. How fitting would that be to be able to get that done?" Brown said. "It's going to be tough because they have a pretty good defense out there now, but it would be great to get that accomplished in that stadium."
Brown's wife and children will attend, sitting in a luxury box with the family of former teammate and friend Jerry Rice. The Browns will wear pewter and red.
"You can bet that," Brown said.
As for his reception from the skull and crossbones set among Raider Nation, Brown expects a little bit of love before the game and a lot of love after. During the game he plans to keep his helmet on, advice he gives to all the Bucs for the often hostile Black Hole.
"They are Raider fans; they love their team," he said.
And for 16 years, they loved Brown. The big, tough football player in him could say he doesn't care how the fans will react, but this likely will be his final game in Oakland.
"It's easy to say you don't, but when it's all said and done, those are going to be the memories I am going to take with me," Brown said. "The reaction I get when they hear my name for the first time and when they hear my name for the last time. It's going to be a special night in a lot of ways."
In 16 seasons Tim Brown set several Raiders records that will be difficult to break:
RECEIVING YARDS: 14,734
ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: 19,434
PUNT RETURNS: 320
PUNT RETURN YARDS: 3,272
RECEIVING TOUCHDOWNS: 99
PRO BOWLS: 9
100-YARD RECEIVING GAMES: 43 Brown is the only Raider to score on a reception, rush, punt return and kickoff return. In 1988, he set an NFL rookie record for combined yardage with 2,317. He caught at least one pass in his final 172 games, a streak that has reached 174 with the Bucs.