Hall of Fame indication speeches have been known to drag on occasionally, but Tim Brown has reason to make his a bit shorter on Saturday.
At least Brown won’t have to mention the 19 signal-callers who attempted passes in his Raiders career. If not for one of the more unsettled quarterback situations in the league at the time, the wide receiver might have found his way to Canton, Ohio, a bit sooner.
“I think I can get to 14 or 15, but I won’t try it now,” Brown said the other day.
The list in chronological order: Steve Beuerlein, Jay Schroder, Vince Evans, Todd Marinovich, Jeff Hostetler, Billy Joe Hobert, David Klingler, Jeff George, Donald Hollas, Wade Wilson, Rich Gannon, Bobby Hoeing, Marques Tuiasosopo, Rick Mirer, Tee Martin, Rob Johnson, Brian Griese, Brad Johnson and Chris Simms.
“I don’t allow myself to think about what if I had Joe Montana or Steve Young or John Elway,” Brown said. “So, they won those Super Bowls, and I kept telling myself, ‘Well, If I had been there, something would have happened.’” Then he added with a laugh, “Nah.”
Brown’s 17-season career is even more remarkable for this reason: He is among the few Heisman Trophy winners let alone those out of Notre Dame who have lived up to the hype at the next level. It wasn’t always that way. In college, Brown outquicked and outsmarted defenders, but rarely did he run over them. He was known as a finesse receiver to some, soft to others.
As Brown remembered it, a game against Miami was the moment of truth. The Hurricanes were known for their smack, physical and verbal, and they had gotten inside his head. The next thing Brown knew, somebody else was in his face. Namely, receivers coach Mike Stock, who grabbed the kid by the collar when he returned to the sideline.
“‘Son, this is big-time college football. And if you don’t change the way you approach it, you won’t be here long,’” Brown recalled the one-way conversation. “I realized that, you can be a goody-goody guy off the field, but when you’re on the field, only the strong will survive. It really changed me. It gave me a different aspect of the game of football itself.”
As Brown would discover soon, the difference between the NCAA and NFL is more than a few letters.
The Raiders drafted Brown at the sixth pick in the 1988 draft, but they did so a bit reluctantly. Offensive tackle Paul Gruber was their consensus choice, but he would be off the board by then. So the front office discussed a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who drafted two spots earlier. After the talks broke down, it settled for Brown, and owner Al Davis
wasn’t in the draft room when it happened.
Brown had some obvious attributes, but the breakaway speed that Davis had coveted at the position wasn’t among them. Davis was convinced that his real value would come as a kick returner and receiver on third down, roles that he played for much of his first four seasons with the team.
It wasn’t until years later that Brown began to convince his boss that he would surpass expectations, and even then, “I really don’t know if I ever won him over per se,” he said.
In 1994, one year before the Raiders moved back to Oakland, Brown became a free agent and agreed to terms with the Denver Broncos, their division rivals. Davis had a decision to make, one that defensive coordinator John Fox helped make for him. “We don’t have anyone who can guard him, so we may as well keep him,” Fox suggested in so many words.
The straight-laced Brown still had a locker room to win over. He didn’t drink or smoke. He didn’t swear. He even listened to gospel music. In other words, he was everything that the renegade Raiders had never been in their history.
Midway though the 1997 season, Brown sensed that his teammates finally had his back. If he hadn’t averaged 94 catches and eight touchdowns in his first three seasons in Oakland, chances are the rowdies would have run him out of town.
“You can be as great a guy as you want to be, but if you’re not playing great football, nobody is going to follow you,” Brown said. “So if I had been a guy who was just [an average player], I think it would have been totally different. As much I wanted to do this Christian thing and this God thing, I had to play great football. Because nobody wants a guy who won’t allow you to play great football. But it was rather enduring. It didn’t happen overnight.”
Nor did his Hall of Fame election. Brown put up impressive numbers — 1,094 receptions, 19,683 all-purpose yards, 105 touchdowns — but because of the glut of elite wide receivers, he would have to wait his turn. The fact that his Raiders teams “spent more time fighting against ourselves than we did other teams” didn’t help his cause, either. In 17 seasons, he never won a Super Bowl.
No wide receiver was selected in the 2011 and 2012 elections. “To let two years go without putting a guy in was a pretty tough thing to deal with, no doubt about it,” Brown said.
Two years ago, Cris Carter made the cut. Last year Andre Reed followed him. If Marvin Harrison was next in line, Brown was prepared to wait a long, long time, but his number was called first this year.
“I enjoyed the process that I went through,” Brown can say now. “It was very difficult. At the same time, I was able to get done what I needed to get done to accomplish personal things on a yearly basis.”CantonHeisman TrophyNFLNFL Hall of FameOakland RaidersOhioTim Brown