OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Perhaps more than any other position in football, wide receivers are forced to depend on teammates for success.
Without a quarterback to throw it, a line to block or other running backs and receivers to divert attention, it is nearly impossible for a wideout to accumulate the big numbers necessary to become a Hall of Famer.
That’s why Tim Brown takes so much pride on the way he made it to Canton.
Despite spending most of his career with pedestrian quarterbacks and few other big-play talents around him on the Raiders, Brown earned his Hall of Fame honors by becoming one of the league’s most consistent and prolific receivers.
In a 17-year career that included 1,094 catches for 14,934 yards and 105 overall touchdowns, Brown caught balls from 19 quarterbacks with the Raiders and Tampa Bay.
“I used to tell them throw it in my vicinity and I’ll do the rest,” Brown said. “To be consistent for that many years with so many quarterbacks is something I’m very proud of. I don’t know if a lot of other guys weathered through some of the things that had to be done. It was sometimes more mental than it was physical to get on the same page of these guys and almost babysit some of the young quarterbacks.”
While Jerry Rice had Joe Montana and Steve Young, Michael Irvin had Troy Aikman, Andre Reed had Jim Kelly, Brown’s quarterbacks were not exactly a who’s who at the position.
There were journeymen Jay Schroeder, Vince Evans, Jeff Hostetler, Jeff George and Donald Hollas. There were fringe players Marques Tuiasosopo, Chris Simms, David Klingler, Rob Johnson, Tee Martin and Bobby Hoying.
That all changed when Rich Gannon arrived in Oakland in 1999 to give Brown a top-flight quarterback late in his career. Gannon was the only quarterback who was an original selection to the Pro Bowl while playing with Brown. Hostetler was a replacement selection in 1994.
There were only three other skill position players who made the Pro Bowl while teammates with Brown: Rice, Bo Jackson and Ethan Horton each getting one selection.
“Timmy did a lot of good things without a big-name quarterback,” Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson said. “That adds to what he accomplished. That means at the top of his routes, he was open. Most great quarterbacks can throw people open. The not-so-good ones can’t. That means Timmy was getting open a lot of times. When he was at his best and some of the elite cornerbacks were covering him, he was still getting open.”
Gannon called Brown one of the smartest teammates he ever had, pointing to a photographic memory that allowed him to memorize game plans almost as soon as he got them. Brown had the creativity to make subtle in-game adjustments to get open.
Despite just 4 1/2 years together, including three with coach Jon Gruden calling plays, Gannon completed more passes to Brown than anyone else, 356. Brown averaged 5.3 catches per game in four full seasons with Gannon at quarterback starting at age 33. At the time they split up, only Marvin Harrison, Rice and Sterling Sharpe averaged more.
“When you look at all the quarterbacks and coaching changes and system changes that he had to deal with and still put up those numbers, it’s really amazing,” Gannon said. “If he was in the right system with a good quarterback his whole career, he already put up really incredible numbers. But who knows?”
Brown said he doesn’t allow himself to think like that, although others close to him try to remind him.
“I had a cousin one time when I retired who took my numbers with Gruden and Gannon and extrapolated them out over my career,” he said. “It was something crazy man. It could have given Jerry Rice a good run for his money, that’s for sure.”
Despite the nine Pro Bowl selections, 10 straight 75-catch seasons and an accomplished career as a returner, Brown needed to wait six years to get his Hall of Fame call. Brown said he doesn’t begrudge receivers such as Reed and Cris Carter who got inducted before he did, but was frustrated by two years when no receivers were elected.
The long wait also means Brown’s father, former teammate Chester McGlockton and former Raiders owner Al Davis won’t be able to witness the induction, having died in recent years while Brown waited for the call.
“That is tough,” he said. “It definitely makes the situation bittersweet. It would have been nice if I had my dad here to see that big smile on his face when his son made the Hall of Fame.”