Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Jeff Faine is anxious for his first game as a Buc, and it just so happens that it is against his former team in his former home stadium. Faine will be battling his former New Orleans Saints teammates in the season opener, and plans to rely on his intimate knowledge of the team to help gain an advantage to have a big debut as a Buccaneer.
"I thought it was ironic to see it on the schedule for the first game of the year," said Faine. "I really have to approach it as just another opponent. I'm going to see a lot of familiar faces, and I definitely have some insight on some of the personal things with those guys. For the most part, I just have to take it as another game."
Tampa Bay defensive tackle Chris Hovan had some big battles against Faine in the past two seasons. Now as teammates the tables have turned and they are helping each other get ready for this pivotal matchup. Hovan can identify with what Faine is feeling this week. In Hovan's first game as a Buccaneer in 2005 he was going back to play his former team, the Minnesota Vikings.
"If he takes the attitude to them like he did to me we'll be all right (laughing)," said Hovan. "The same thing happened to me, with my first game as a Buc at Minnesota. I know what he's feeling. He's going to be real nervous, and that's good. It is good to have butterflies sometimes, but I know he is going to do great against his old team."
Hovan was asked what Faine would be feeling as game time approaches.
"Just anxious," said Hovan. "It is a lot of uncertainty, it is funny how your life comes around sometimes. You go play your old team at their place. It is a little weird, but you get that first hit in the game and shake those cobwebs off and get those butterflies out and your great.
"For me, the speed of the game picked up. The next thing I know I'm in just another game. It is the anticipation for the game. The whole offseason and you're looking at it, like ‘darn, do I really have to go back to the place I started.' But it is great though to get a chance to go out there and play with the emotion and excitement."
The other intangible in Sunday's game is the return of the Saints, and the New Orleans population from Hurricane Gustav. In the first game back in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the Saints had a resounding emotional victory over the Atlanta Falcons that helped propel them to a division title and a postseason run to the NFC Championship Game. The Saints will be looking to ride the emotional wave that rocked the city with the latest hurricane.
"I think it is definitely not going to be as dramatic as it was after Katrina," said Faine. "It was a totally different deal. There will be some of that feeling for the fans and the team. The whole population of New Orleans is coming back, and will be back for this game. I think we're going to feel it, and there will definitely be some energy there. It is something we have to prepare for.
"I definitely felt for them. I still have property there. I still have my house there. It is definitely a big deal. New Orleans could not have taken another traumatic hit like Katrina was, and probably not for another 50 years. It was catastrophic. I'm excited and happy for the fans and the city that they didn't have to rebuild the city, and that is something everybody should really appreciate."
With the team leaving New Orleans and practicing in Indianapolis this week, there has been some questioning if Hurricane Gustav was a distraction for the Saints. Not only did the players leave, but their families also were forced to flee New Orleans. With the turbulence of the situation some think that Saints have lost some of the home field advantage in dealing with a distraction. Faine was asked if he thought the Saints were distracted this week during their preparation.
"No not at all," answered Faine. "In some ways it might have been a little better situation up there, to kind of get away from everything. I think the only distraction they have is worrying about their families. That got pretty much left behind when they went up there, and they basically had to handle themselves. After that it was business as usual. I know [head coach Sean Payton] well enough and he has his team prepared well and won't let it be a distraction at all."
Last season the Buccaneers beat the Saints twice en route to taking the NFC South Division Championship away from New Orleans. The Saints retooled their roster in the offseason particularly their defense, and their only significant loss was Faine. Even though there is a long season after this Week 1 contest, Faine expects the Saints will be treating the first game as one of the biggest of the season.
"Oh for sure," said Faine. "It is definitely going to be a huge game for them. It is a major emphasis from coach Payton to get up for division opponents, as it is for every head coach. It is a big time game, especially to start the season off in the right way. It is a division opponent and a rival."
With Faine's intimate knowledge of his former teammates, he could be a nice resource for the Bucs defensive linemen. Hovan is always looking for an edge, and has already been trying to gain an upper hand for Sunday's game via his new friend and teammate.
"Yeah I've been picking his brain a little during this week," Hovan said. "I've been letting him get his game plan down, and make sure he knows what he's doing before he gives me some advice. Me and Jeff talk a lot in and outside the building and I'm definitely going to find out what's going on with them."
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