SI Vault: Tim Brown's moves off the field as sweet as the ones on it
Tim Brown played 16 of his 17 seasons with the Raiders and finished with 1,094 receptions, 14,934 yards and 100 touchdowns in his career. He will be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. This story originally appeared in the July 6, 1998 edition of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to SI here.
To call it voice mail is to demean and cheapen it. For these were not phone messages so much as extemporaneous odes, prose poems to a muse. Sherice Weaver would return to her office after her lunch break, listen to her messages and then gather her female colleagues, who would hear the voice of her fiancée, Tim Brown. A typical recording: “Hello, my love. Just called to tell you that I missed you, that I thank the Lord every day for sending such a wonderful woman into my life.”
And so forth. When the message was finished, Sherice's friends would sigh and say, "He can't be real." One day, after hearing the latest of Tim's rhapsodies, one of Sherice's colleagues was moved to tears. “Oh, Sherice,” she blubbered. “He loves you so much.”
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Now it can be told: Brown, 31, the Oakland Raiders' Pro Bowl flanker, has a romantic streak the width of Lincoln Kennedy, the team's immense offensive tackle. Bully for Brown. It is not enough for him to be one of the top five receivers in football. It is not enough for him to be the owner of an apparel company, to drive a black Porsche and have a walk-in closet full of killer threads; to be bright and funny and possessed of a face and body that would not be out of place in a Calvin Klein underwear ad. Brown, apparently, will not be happy until the significant other of every man in America turns to her partner and says, reproachfully, “I wish you could be as romantic as Tim Brown.”
The Browns, who celebrated their first anniversary on June 21, are expecting a child this summer. By making it past the one-year mark, Sherice and Tim have exceeded the longevity of former Raiders coach Joe Bugel, who was fired in January after one disastrous 4–12 season. Around that time Brown also flirted with the idea of departing. Though he had tied Detroit Lions wideout Herman Moore for the league lead with 104 receptions and had played in his seventh Pro Bowl, he had become so weary of Oakland's underachieving and the meddling of owner Al Davis that “for a minute there,” he says, “I didn't think I would be coming back.”
Brown had the option of voiding the remaining years on his contract. In February, however, after careful reflection, he decided to stick with the team for which he has gained 8,588 receiving yards and played his entire 10-year NFL career. "To leave after last season, I would have felt like a dog leaving a fight with his tail between his legs," Brown says.
Clean-cut, well-spoken, sports editor of the school newspaper at Dallas's Woodrow Wilson High and a Notre Dame graduate who won the 1987 Heisman Trophy, Brown has always been a bit anomalous as a Raider, a choirboy among Crips. Davis, the leader of the Raiders gang, has long provided a home for the NFL's wayward souls. The problem is that of late, his mercenaries have tended to pack it in when the going got tough. Oakland dropped eight of its last nine games in '97, after which Brown publicly suggested that former Raiders coach and Hall of Fame offensive tackle Art Shell be rehired to replace Bugel. “We needed someone who commanded respect from the moment he walked in the room,” says Brown. “Art could do that with his size alone.”
Despite the lobbying by his star receiver, Davis hired as his new coach the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive coordinator, 34-year-old wunderkind Jon Gruden, who graciously dismisses Brown's backing of Shell as a non-issue. Citing his coaching experiences with the Eagles and the Green Bay Packers, Gruden says, “Wherever I've been, the flanker's been my best buddy. In Green Bay it was Sterling Sharpe, in Philly it was Irving Fryar.” After three minicamps Brown is sold on Gruden, or “Groo,” as he is wont to call him over the phone, as in, “Yo, Groo, what's going on?” During minicamp Brown was encouraged by Gruden's hands-on teaching of the club's new offense. The system bears a suspicious resemblance to the West Coast offense, though none of the Raiders would dare to so dub it, considering the scheme's association with their loathed cross-Bay rivals, the San Francisco 49ers.
“It's the Silver and Black Attack,” says onetime Niners assistant Gruden, who stood across the line of scrimmage from Brown at the minicamps and showed him how defensive backs would react in certain situations. “I liked that,” says Brown, “even though I had to rough him up a little, knock him down a couple times, just to show him he's with the Raiders now.”
Brown is speaking inside a trailer—a Starwagon, to be precise—across from Lot 21 at Universal Studios in Burbank, Calif. Brown and some other NFL players were there last week to shoot a candy bar commercial set up by Players Inc., the licensing and marketing arm of the NFL Players Association. He is gazing at a TV between takes when the Starwagon becomes markedly more crowded. “What's up, Timmy?” says 243-pound Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, entering, then making himself at home in the trailer of his fellow Golden Domer. The conversation turns to the curious way the Raiders have always used Brown.
“They wait until they're down 10, 14 points, then they say, 'Let's get Timmy in the game,'” says Bettis. It is Brown's contention that while other receivers of his caliber have game plans built around them, he has been, for much of his career, a FEMA receiver—someone to go to in case of emergency. Shouts Bettis, “See, Timmy, they don't want you to be the superstar that you need to be, the superstar that you are!” If that sounds ridiculous, considering that Brown has gained more than 1,000 receiving yards in each of the last five seasons, listen to Jeff Hostetler, who quarterbacked the Raiders from 1993 to '96 and now backs up Gus Frerotte for the Washington Redskins. “I had to fight to get Timmy the ball,” says Hoss. “The entire time I was there, I was told to throw elsewhere.”
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After taking Brown with the sixth pick in the '88 draft, Davis looked at him and saw a brilliant ... third-down receiver and return specialist. That's right: In his first four years in the league, Brown the receiver had precious few chances to touch the ball, surrounded as he was by such Davis favorites as Swervin' Mervyn Fernandez and Willie Gault. Brown's most prolific season—the one just passed—was, not coincidentally, the first in which he bore almost no kick-return responsibilities. “You know what?” he says. “It's kind of nice, sitting there on the bench with a cold towel on your neck.”
It was on a kickoff return in the opening game of his second season that Brown tore the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee. That injury, Brown figures, cost him one or two tenths of a second off his 40 time. (He once ran a 4.3.) Unaffected was his patented move, identified by Oakland executive assistant Al LoCasale: “So many guys come across the middle, catch the ball and stay on that path. As Tim's coming across, he'll see an alley, shoot up it and turn a 15-yard gain into a 70-yard touchdown.”
Brown is a courageous player, as willing to publicly criticize Davis—a rare quality in this Kremlin-like organization—as he is to go over the middle. Moreover, not only is Brown smart, says sage Raiders cornerback Albert Lewis, who had to cover him while with the Kansas City Chiefs, “but he gets smarter as the game goes on. Tim is one of the best ever at setting guys up. It's a chess game, and Tim's a grandmaster.”
Grandmaster Brown had zero catches late in the third quarter of Oakland's 24–21 opening-game overtime loss to the Tennessee Oilers last season. He finished with eight receptions for 158 yards and three touchdowns. On his second score he snatched quarterback Jeff George's pass out of the hands of an Oilers defender and zigzagged 27 yards into the end zone. Afterward, Raiders receivers coach and Hall of Fame wideout Fred Biletnikoff, who knows from hellacious snags, shouted at Brown, “That was the greatest catch I've ever seen!”
Late in the game, on fourth-and-16, Brown and George decided on a play called F-in. In order to be the primary receiver, Brown switched places with wideout Olanda Truitt. He then snagged a pass from George in the back of the end zone for his third touchdown, clinging to the ball despite absorbing a wicked shot from free safety Marcus Robertson. “I lied,” Biletnikoff told him when Brown reached the sideline. “That was the greatest catch I've ever seen.”
It takes nerve to call your own number on fourth-and-16 in crunch time, just as it takes moxie to proffer a forkful of carrot cake to a beautiful stranger and say, “Girl, you gotta taste this.” These were among the first words Brown uttered to his bride-to-be, whom he met at the wedding of former Raiders (and current Chiefs) defensive tackle Chester McGlockton in the summer of '96. Sherice was wearing a black-and-white polka dot dress in the style of “the one Marilyn Monroe is wearing in the famous picture,” says Tim. She can't recall what he was wearing, and didn't know who he was. She does remember this: “He stared at me the whole time.”
“I was just trying to see if you were wearing a lot of makeup or if you were a natural beauty,” he explains.
After making small talk with Sherice, Tim sought out the groom. “Who is that girl?” he asked the world's largest yenta. Replied McGlockton, with the happy serenity of the newly betrothed, “Get out of my face, man—I've been trying to set you up with her for two years!”
Big Chet's instincts were true. “We're definitely soulmates, that's what's so awesome,” says Sherice. They have settled comfortably into an in-season routine. Upon returning from practice, Tim logs onto his computer, skims an on-line newspaper and answers E-mail sent to him from his company's Dallas headquarters. The company, Pro Moves International, sells licensed women's sleepwear and loungewear, and is licensed to sell NFL- and NHL-labeled intimate apparel. While Brown will assume a more hands-on role with Pro Moves when he retires from football, he and Sherice are thinking of attending law school someday. Whence their interest in law?
“You mean he didn't tell you?” asks Sherice. About what? “About his ... addiction? He loves Court TV. He's a Court TV junkie.”
“It's reality,” says Tim, explaining why he's attracted to the courtroom broadcasts. Sherice nods in agreement. At first she disapproved of Tim's habit. In time, she found herself tuning in to Court TV after he had left the house. Court TV triggers some of their liveliest exchanges. Take the case the channel billed as the Sexual Obsession Murder Trial. Despite persuasive forensic evidence to the contrary, Sherice refused to believe that the defendant, a 17-year-old boy, was guilty of killing the mother of one of his friends.
Convinced of the teen's guilt throughout the trial, Tim remained so at its conclusion. “Look how he walks out of the courtroom after being convicted,” he declared. “If I'm innocent, I'm yelling, 'I didn't do it! You got the wrong guy!' Instead, he just walks out like, 'All right, y'all got me.'”
To see the Browns together is to be assured that no Court TV-related difference of opinion could threaten their bond. As we leave them, they are entwined on a love seat ... watching a trial. They are holding hands, and the thought occurs that each holds, in the other, a great catch.