He is the most exciting football player in Southern California today.
The most exciting.
He caught 10 passes last week at Buffalo and zigged. He ran 74 yards with a punt Sunday against Seattle and zagged. Come out and see for yourself what he does next. (Plenty of good seats available.) The man is running wild.
His name is Tim Brown--rhymes with Jim Brown--and a case could be made that he is the very best player we have in the whole state, pound for pound, south of San Francisco.
Who else, then?
Who's playing better football than Tim Brown? Come on. Name me a Ram, a Charger, a Raider. I'm waiting. Name me a halfback, a tackle, a cornerback. Tick tock, tick tock. Who's more entertaining? Who's making more big plays? Who's doing more to keep a team pointing for the playoffs? Tim Brown has been making the game-breakers for a Raider team that has not won any game by more than five points since opening day.
It's a mouthful, but even Tim himself says: "I've done pretty much what I wanted to do this year."
He finally broke a punt return, for the first time since 1991. That's the one thing he has been wanting to do most. That's the thing he has always done best.
Scouting reports had tipped off Brown that Sunday might be the day. He and the Raider special-teams coaches had reviewed enough film of the Seattle Seahawks and had taken enough notes.
"We knew this was a punter who would definitely outkick his coverage," Brown said.
The punter's name is Rick Tuten, sometimes called "Darn" by people who think they're funny, and he has been logging hang time in the NFL for four seasons, one fewer than Brown. He also hails from Florida State, which was another reason an old Notre Damer wouldn't mind burning him.
After the opening possession of the second half, Seattle, having gained one measly yard, had to punt. Tuten took a snap from his own 21. The ball smacked off his boot and floated 54 yards, making Brown backpedal several steps to catch it. But its trajectory was low. It wasn't one of those Ray Guy jobs that used to dust the clouds.
Brown made a basket catch worthy of Willie Mays and looked upfield. Four Seahawks flew toward him. They were running at full stride, straining to cover 54 yards when their legs would have much preferred 44. Brown juked, dipped his shoulder and watched them whoosh past like a matador waving a cape.
Four down, seven to go.
Because the punter was loitering far downfield, Brown only had six more actual tacklers to dodge. Then again, a kicker had impeded him earlier this season and teammates never let him hear the end of it.
Above all, he had one responsibility. He had to be aware which way Trey Junkin would be coming toward him. Junkin is the old pro (11 seasons) who had a five-year career with the Raiders. He is the deep snapper on Seahawk punts. He is a 237-pounder who outweighs Brown by more than 40. If he hits you, you stay hit.
"Trey came at me funny," Brown said. "We know that he knows our returns. What ended up happening, we had a right (side) return on and Trey is supposed to be in the middle of the field. But for some reason he ran way outside the numbers. It left a big hole in the middle of the field. Once I made a cut and got by him, all I had to do was get back outside and behind the wall. It was just me and the punter after that."
Not a dream situation for a punter.
Tuten grazed Brown with maybe a pinky before the Raider gave him the brush along the sideline by the Seahawk bench, but, this not being touch football, Brown went in standing for the touchdown. Nobody from Seattle had hit him half as hard as his teammates did, in an end-zone celebration that buried Brown at the bottom of a human pyramid. Raiders jumped on Brown like dogs on bones.
"Lost my mouthpiece and everything," he said.
This was Tim Brown at his best, doing the zig-zag that he does so well. Even he acknowledged: "That's why I'm in the league, to do this sort of thing once in a while. And unfortunately, when it comes to punt returns, it's definitely only once in a while."
This was small comfort for Tuten.
"I probably should have kicked it a little higher," the Seattle punter said. "Our job is to keep him at the other end of the field and his job is to get down to our end of the field. He did his job better than we did our job. I thought I had him. I had an angle on him. But there aren't many punters who are going to run Tim Brown down. I mean, he's a great player."
That he is.
The Raiders have many. They aren't an above-.500 team--that Southern California rarity--because of one man. Brown and his buddy receivers, principally James Jett, Rocket Ismail and Alexander Wright, have become the Four Airmen of the Apocalypse.
Coach Art Shell said after Sunday's victory: "It's not too complicated. If you throw the ball up, our receivers will go get it."
Scoring 27 points, their most this season, the Raiders still somehow kept this contest close.
"Giving me more gray hairs by the week," Jett put it.
Said Brown, who was mortified by a defeat at Cincinnati but gratified by the team's response a week later at Buffalo: "We're not satisfied, going up by 18 points but still not sewing up the game until the final plays. I'd like to get an easy one sometime."
Maybe against Tampa Bay at home next week. Maybe more fans will even come out to see Brown and the Raiders play.
"Where is everybody?" defensive tackle Nolan Harrison wondered. "Why ever they're not here, it's a cop-out. We got what today--40,000 fans? Less? Our true fans saw us play some really good football. But we'd be shocked if we ever sold out a game on our own instead of depending on who our opponent is. Heaven forbid they should come out just to watch us play."
Tim Brown should be worth another 40,000, all by himself.