With Tim Brown, Always a Catch : He Is Raiders' Leading Receiver, but He Still May Be Traded


Two weeks ago, Raider receiver Tim Brown caught nine passes, a single-game high for him.

Last week, he caught none.

Highs and lows. Ups and downs. So what's new?

It has been that way for Brown in the last year, despite his position as the Raiders' premier receiver and a man on the verge of becoming the best punt returner in team history.

Brown was up after another strong season in 1992.

But he was down about all the off-the-field controversy.

He was up, figuring he was a free agent, at season's end.

But he was down after learning that he would not be allowed to test the market.

He is up now because of the positive impact new quarterback Jeff Hostetler has had on the Raider offense.

But he is down at the thought that he might be gone by Oct. 19, the trading deadline.

Tim Brown traded?

That may seem laughable. Indeed, Raider officials chuckle at the very thought of it. When the subject was broached this week, a Raider official absolutely ruled it out.

But Brown, a restricted free agent at the end of this season, is serious.

"I'm from the school that you have to prepare yourself for whatever can happen," he said. "That can happen. I can't walk around here figuring I'm the leading receiver on this team and I've got two touchdowns and they're not going to get rid of me. I'm not so full of myself to believe that.

"If it happens, it wouldn't surprise me to the point where I would be caught off guard. And I don't ever want to be caught off guard.

"I'm thinking this because I'll be a free agent after this season and, if they lost me, they wouldn't get anything. Now, they could trade me and get something. That's business. You have to be realistic about things like that."

Even if Brown, designated a transition player by the Raiders, were to receive another offer, the Raiders could match it, so there is no way he would leave the team empty-handed.

Brown says, though, that he doesn't want to go anywhere.

"If they want me here, of course I want to be here," he said. "I have ever since they drafted me. But if not, if I don't fit into their plans, we'll just have to sever our ties and go on about our business."

When Brown signed a two-year deal before the 1992 season, he thought it included a clause that made him a free agent if a collective-bargaining agreement were subsequently signed by the players and the owners.

It was, and he thought that made him a restricted free agent.

The Raiders, though, interpreted the contract to mean that Brown was still tied to them for this season at a salary of $900,000.

The matter finally went to the commissioner's office, where the ruling went in the Raiders' favor.

"That was just so ridiculous," Brown said. "They know what happened. They know that they got one over on me, but so be it. Nothing I can do about it now. I really don't even want to talk about it because I still get mad if I talk about it."

Actually, it was talking that got Brown over some of his anger, anger not only about his contract, but about a season of controversy, highlighted by the public feud between owner Al Davis and since-departed tailback Marcus Allen.

"What made it better for me was that I went in and talked to Al a couple of times," Brown said. "I really had a an opportunity to tell him what I thought about everything that was going on around here. There was some difference of opinion, but I hope he understood where I was coming from. I walked out of there feeling better.

"But I still didn't feel better about not having the money that I would have had (as a free agent)."

Rather than slinking into training camp and pouting his way through the season, though, Brown took the opposite approach.

"I prepared myself harder than I ever have in the off-season," he said. "And I worked harder than I ever did in training camp. I wasn't going to get the money, but I still play this game because I love it."

And a more varied Raider offense figures to take some of the defensive pressure off him. Hostetler threw to eight receivers in the Raiders' season opener alone. And when there isn't an open man, Hostetler takes off on the ground.

But, Brown says, all this talk of a new Raider offense is overblown.

"The offense hasn't changed," he said. "If you guys want to make a big deal over something, it should be over Jeff Hostetler. He's taking whatever's there instead of trying to force things.

"We feel like we can make first downs now. In the past, we weren't able to do that. This whole thing is about Jeff Hostetler. You hate to put the whole thing on his shoulders, but, in a sense, you have to. As he goes, so goes the team. If he has a bad game, I don't think we could rebound from that."

But whatever Hostetler does, the defenses figure to keep the pressure on Brown. It has been that way since he arrived in the NFL six years as a first-round draft choice.

That pressure is understandable considering the lofty credentials Brown brought with him: All-American at Notre Dame and the 1987 Heisman Trophy winner.

It didn't take long for him to live up to that billing as a pro.

Against the San Diego Chargers in his professional debut, Brown returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, and he never looked back.

He broke Gayle Sayers' league record for total yardage by a rookie with 2,317--725 on receptions, 50 rushing, 1,098 on kickoff returns and 444 on punt returns.

The only down side in ensuing years has been the kickoff returns. Brown doesn't like them. Period.

Not since suffering a season-ending knee injury in the 1989 opener returning a kickoff against, coincidentally, the Chargers.

Since that day, Brown has returned only three kickoffs.

"All the talent you have, all of a sudden, it's gone," he said. "You don't know if you're going to be able to come back. You don't know if you're going to be the same player that you were."

So don't look for Brown back there again?

"If we get to the Super Bowl, I may do it. But other than that, I wouldn't even think about it."

Punt returns, however, where the chances of a career-ending collision are not so likely, are another matter.

"I love it," he said. "I have a good time doing it. It's exciting because you're in a position where one play can turn a game around."

Brown has the second-best punt return totals in Raider history behind Neal Colzie. Brown has returned 158 punts, 10 fewer than Colzie, for 1,563 yards, 184 fewer.

Brown figures to surpass both totals this season. Provided he remains a Raider.

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