On December 8, Kris Brown will be in an all too-familiar setting. While kicking field goals through the uprights in Heinz Field during the pre-game warm-ups, he may visit with friends and take in the Pittsburgh skyline. He may even get a few, "Hey Stifler!" yells from Steelers' players, who anointed him with the nickname after they noticed that he closely resembled one of the characters from the movie "American Pie."
Though familiar for Brown, it will also be so different. He will be playing in front of the Pittsburgh fans just as he had so many times in the past. But this time, he'll be a Texan. He will face his old teammates from the opposite sideline. And many of them will menacingly lunge at him when he attempts extra points and field goals.
Brown couldn't be more excited for the opportunity to re-visit his past. While he was much criticized in the Steel City last season after ending the year on a down note, Brown feels no animosity nor enters the game with any redemption cry. He spent his first three seasons in the league putting points on the board for the Steelers. In 1999, he finished the campaign with an 86.2 field goal percentage while hitting 82.1 percent of his kicks in 2000. Last year, Brown kicked 34 extra points and 30 field goals, career highs in both categories and booted through a 55-yarder, the longest in his NFL career. But it was the final eight or nine games that people tend to remember. It was in those games that many of his 10 missed field goals fell victim to mind games that the swirly Heinz Field winds played on so many of the league's kickers.
When Brown was signed by the expansion Texans as a restricted free agent from the Steelers on March 25, the Steelers gained the first pick of the seventh round in the 2003 NFL draft. The Texans acquired one of the best young kickers in the league.
"Brown is the best seventh-round draft choice in the league this year," Texans general manager Charley Casserly said.
So far, so good. Brown hit all nine of his field goal attempts in the preseason for the Texans and is 2 for 2 through two regular season games, nailing 42 and 45-yarders.
While the Steelers may have remembered those last few games in 2001, Houston saw a young man who struggled mentally for a short period of time. He ranked seventh in NCAA history after scoring 388 points for Nebraska, earned him numerous special teams of the week honors in the NFL, all which were not just lost after a few bad games. At the beginning of the season, the Pittsburgh papers touted him as an "elite" kicker. Those same writers turned him into a different entity by the time the playoffs rolled around.
Though the missed field goals may have gotten into his head a little bit, the critics didn't come close.
"Pittsburgh is going to have a good football team this year so it will be challenging for us to go there late in the season," Brown said. "It will probably be surreal for me because I'll be on the opposite sideline and I have a lot of good friends who play for them.
"Last year was a bad half of a year. I don't think you can define a player in one year or even in one game. I'm not going back there to prove anything. I'm coming out this year to help this team win games. That's the only thing I care about."
If there was ever a year when the Texans needed Brown the most, it will be this season. Though his job is always crucial, many of the expansion Texans' points will have Brown's name written all over them. Whether kicking an extra point in the first quarter or going for the nail-biting game winner, each attempt is just as significant as the next to Brown.
"I always believed that every kick is important," he remarked. "The last kick of a ball game holds just as much weight as that one in the first quarter."
If there is one thing Texans head coach Dom Capers has stressed more than anything, it's the battle for field position. This first season, Capers knows points will be hard to come by, so keeping opposing defenses deep in their own territory is one key. Brown knows just how important this concept will be in winning ball games.
"Coach Capers has showed us statistics of when and where teams start their drive from and what those statistics say as far as percentage of them scoring a touchdown as opposed to a field goal or not scoring at all," Brown said. "That let's us visually see that what he's saying is true. If we can force people to do that, than it's going to help us win."
One person he won't have to worry about returning his kicks for huge chunks of yardage is return man Jermaine Lewis. Lewis is a kicker's worst nightmare. Brown learned first-hand when he made a touchdown-saving tackle on the former Baltimore Raven last November. Having Lewis on his side is a luxury that Brown appreciates.
"Fortunately he's on my team now because he's just dangerous," he smiled. "It's going to be nice not having to kick to him."
Being a Texan will have its advantages on the field, but off the field, Brown couldn't have asked for a better set-up. He returned to his home state, where he spent his childhood as well as football playing days as a youth in Southlake, just outside of Dallas-Ft. Worth.
Brown began his football career at Carroll High School where he was a quarterback first, kicker second. Brown attributes most of his success to the winning foundation that he built at Carroll, where the team went 32-0 his sophomore and junior years, winning back-to-back state championships. He went on to start as the squad's quarterback his final two seasons, where he would help to carry on the tradition of seven straight years of 10-0 teams. So could Brown's passing background mean fake field goals are in the Texans future?
"I talked to coach Capers about it the other day and he said, 'Kris, I'm going to tell you exactly what I told coach (Joe) Marciano, if you can guarantee it will work, then we'll do it.'
"Of course with plays like that, you never know," Brown said. "I said, 'Well, then I'll guarantee it every time.'"
Though kicking was secondary in high school, he hit a 55-yarder for Carroll, matching his longest recorded in the professional ranks. Just booting the ball around in practice though, Brown has been known to nail a few as long as almost 70 yards.
Though his recent life seems to have been devoted to splitting the uprights, Brown and his wife Amy, find true satisfaction in giving back to the community. Here in Houston, the two are starting a program to donate time and money to help children with cancer. The cause is one close to Brown's heart, after seeing both his sister and stepbrother battle the illness.
"We want these kids to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel," Brown said. "For me, the moments that I've cherished the most were the ones where I've gotten to get out into the community. Those are the situations that pale in comparison to what we do on Sunday."
United with his roots and ready to continue what is just the beginning of
a long and promising career, Kris Brown is right where he belongs as a Houston Texan.