"It's not a big deal." That's what Ray Brown kept saying to himself--even laughing about it--as he spoke with reporters and a camera crew on Wednesday, shortly after signing a contract to return with the Redskins for the 2005 season.
Brown has always gone about his business in a low-key manner. But there's no getting around the acclaim when a pro football player has played the game for 20 years. For an offensive lineman, one of the more grueling positions in the sport, it's a particularly impressive accomplishment.
Think about it: When Brown started playing pro football in 1986, the Arizona Cardinals were in St. Louis, the St. Louis Rams were in Los Angeles and the Tennessee Titans were the Houston Oilers. What's more, five expansion teams have been added to the league since 1986.
Brown, 42, keeps it all in perspective.
"I'm just excited about coming back for another season--and that outweighs any significance of playing 20 years," he said. "I just feel fortunate to be on a team that's coached by Joe Gibbs and that we have a real opportunity of improving on what we did last year."
The 6-5, 318-pound lineman has started 203 NFL games and appeared in 246 in his career. Last season, Brown signed with the Redskins after Jon Jansen went down with an Achilles injury. He ended up starting 13 games at right tackle and one at right guard.
Prior to joining the Redskins, Brown played two seasons with Detroit (2002-03), six seasons with San Francisco (1996-2001), five with Washington (1989-95) and three with the Phoenix/St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals drafted him in the eighth round (201st overall) of the 1986 NFL Draft.
Given the return of Jon Jansen at right tackle and the fact that Brown underwent knee and ankle surgery this offseason, Brown expects to settle into a backup role with the Redskins this year.
"Right now I don't see myself as a starter, but I'm able to start [if necessary]," he said. "I'm going to prepare myself as a starter. But I probably fit in best as a backup guard or tackle, if I have to play tackle. I'm just going to focus on staying healthy and getting in football shape."
Brown adjusted to playing tackle last season, but playing guard is his more natural position. Still, head coach Joe Gibbs and assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel love Brown's versatility.
"Guard is more instinctive for me," he said. "At tackle, I really had to work at it. I was taken out of my comfort zone a little bit because I'd been a guard for so long. But the thing I had going for me was coaching. 'Buges' was great. He wasn't going to allow me to wallow in excuses or allow me to say that I'm a guard who has to play tackle.
"He said, 'You're a football player and I'm going to coach you as a tackle.' He really motivated me and that's how I got through it. I viewed it as a challenge and he got the best out of me."
Along with providing depth on the offensive line, Brown also provides steady leadership in the locker room. He welcomes the role of mentor. He has a sort of an "open-door" policy for every player in the locker room, but he's also willing to pull aside a player who may be struggling on or off the field.
"I get a lot of questions because I've been around," he said. "My goal has always been to be a good teammate. More than anything, that's what I want to be remembered as--someone who has helped teammates out.
"When I look back at my 20 years, I think about the 20 years of help that I've had. The coaches, the teammates, my parents, my family--all of that help has got me here today. So with those people having helped me, I owe it to someone else to help them. That's how I made it 20 years: someone saying something encouraging to me or helping me. That's how I made it."