When the Las Vegas (technically, Oakland) Raiders signed Jerry Rice in 2001, he was already the NFL’s all-time leader in receiving yards. This signing paired him with another future Hall of Famer: Tim Brown. These two helped carry the Raiders offense throughout the early 2000s.
While it took some time to cash in on their investment, Tim Brown is one of the greatest draft picks in Raiders history. Drafted in 1988, he recorded his first 1,000-yard season in 1991 and never looked back, going on to record nine straight such seasons. For the former Heisman winner, he was the face of the Raiders for the duration of the ’90s. Things only got easier for Brown when the Raiders added quarterback Rich Gannon.
Gannon and Brown took the Raiders offense to new heights in 1999 and 2000 as they fielded a top-six offense both seasons. At the conclusion of 2000, it had become clear the Raiders were in their championship window. Brown would be turning 35, while Gannon would be 36 that season. They need one more piece.
Across the Bay in San Francisco, Jerry Rice had grown unhappy with his role in an offense that was putting an emphasis on youth. The Raiders, already one of the oldest offenses in the league, signed the 39-year-old wideout. Rice’s resume was well established by this point as he was already widely considered the greatest wide receiver of all time. He had led the league in receiving yards and touchdowns six times, 12 Pro Bowl selections, 10 All-Pro selections, three Super Bowl wins, and a Super Bowl MVP. Signing Rice came with just one question: did he have anything left to offer?
Highs and lows in 2001
The Raiders offense enjoyed another top ten finish in both points and yards per game in 2001. The team as a whole got off to a torrid start winning six of their first seven games. In a Week 10 game against the Chargers, the Raiders offense exploded to win the game 34-24. In this contest, Rice recorded 131 yards and three touchdowns, while Brown had 62 yards and a score of his own. Not to be outdone, Brown had 117 yards and two scores the next week against the Giants. This, at a time when passing the ball was just starting to take over in the NFL, showed how devastating the Raiders offense could be under coach Jon Gruden.
After finishing the season with three straight losses, the Raiders finished 10-6. The sudden losing streak left doubt over whether the Raiders had peaked too early. The answer? A defiant no. The Raiders blew out the Jets in the Wild Card round, winning 38-24 on the back of another tremendous Jerry Rice performance. Rice, had nine catches for 183 yards and a touchdown giving him one of the best playoff performances of his career. Brown only had 13 yards in the game but managed to snag the other Gannon touchdown pass.
The next week would not be so kind to the Raiders offense. While Oakland had a solid rushing attack with the three-headed monster of Charlie Garner, Tyrone Wheatley, and Zack Crockett, they relied on Gannon and the receivers for big plays. This became impossible in New England as the game was played in an unbelievable snowstorm. The persistent snowfall ruined the passing game as the dynamic receiving duo combined for just nine catches and 90 yards. The Raiders would lose the game in a controversial fashion.
Super Bowl potential fulfilled
Losing a game in such a fashion would crush most teams but not this one. Under new head coach Bill Callahan, the Raiders offense started 2002 on fire by winning their first four games by a combined score of 162-90. The biggest of which was a 52-25 thrashing of the Tennessee Titans. In this game, Rice had 144 yards for a touchdown and Brown had 90 yards and a touchdown. Despite 40 and 36 years old, Rice and Brown were still the NFL’s best receiving duo. The Raiders would finish an 11-5 season by winning seven of their last eight, securing a first-round bye.
One for the record books.
Eighteen years ago, Tim Brown recorded his 1,000th catch against the Jets on Monday Night Football. pic.twitter.com/0PQ5hHqb8f
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) December 3, 2020
The extra rest paid off as they again faced the Jets in a playoff game. The Raiders would win the game 30-10 while Rice grabbed yet another playoff touchdown. Sadly for the Titans, they were forced to renew acquaintances with the Raiders once again. Brown and RIce combined for 152 yards and the Silver and Black won a blowout, 41-24, to advance to their first Super Bowl since 1984.
Of course, the Raiders would not fare so well in the title game. Faced against former coach Jon Gruden, the Raiders would get blown out 48-21. At this point, Super Bowls were nothing new for Rice and he showed it by leading the Raiders in receiving and recording a touchdown. Brown, on the other hand, struggled immensely. Targeted five times in the game, he had one catch for nine yards.
A Legacy left
Since that Super Bowl loss in 2002, the Raiders have not been the same and that started quickly in 2003. Enduring a 4-12 season, neither Rice nor Brown had 1,000 yards receiving and had just four touchdowns combined. In the 2004 season, both would be on different teams.
The legacy left behind by both players is immense. At the end of their Raider’s tenures, they ranked one and two all-time in receiving yards. Rice would enter the Hall of Fame in 2010 while Brown would enter in 2015. After they left Oakland, they seemed to take their winning ways with them as the team has made the playoffs only once since their departure.
Both guys still have a love for the Raiders as they both attended Gruden’s press conference when he returned as head coach in 2018. Icons in the sport as a whole, Raider fans understand and appreciate the greatness they got to watch unfold while they were members of the Silver and Black.
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*Top Photo: David J. Phillip/Associated Press