Sitting in the stands for the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 20, the game sent a charge through Tim Dwight. The former Iowa all-American realized what he needed to do.
Dwight just had finished his 10th NFL season, but it clearly wasn’t the end. Clarity of vision returned.
“I’ve got a lot of other interests in other places,” Dwight said. “I’ve kind of developed that the last couple of years. At the same time, I’ve been kind of cheating football a little bit. That’s what’s got me to where I am in other parts of my life.
“I just said to myself that I need to go back and give the game one or two more years of just giving it all you’ve got. That’s something that I’ve realized these last years. You’ve been injured and dealing with this toe, foot injury and now it’s time to really finish it out.”
Dwight played in 2007 for the Raiders, who picked him up off of the wire on Nov. 1. He caught six passes for 98 yards, including a 28-yard scoring grab in his first game with the team. He also returned nine punts for 54 yards and a kick for 30.
Preparing for a Week 15 game against Indianapolis, Dwight strained his hamstring and missed the team’s last three games.
“It was in a Thursday practice, which kind of sucks,” Dwight said. “If it was earlier in the week, like a Monday, I would have played in the last game. Hamstrings usually take two to three weeks, and I was right at two and a half weeks.
“That’s what’s frustrating. You come back and are starting to play well and boom you get a little injury and you miss the last three games. You’re only as good as your last play. You want to finish the year out.”
Dwight underwent foot surgery at the end of the ’06 season while with the Jets. He was working his way back last summer, when he suffered an injury while compensating for the repaired foot. New York released him in late August, which surprised him.
“I know how the business is and how it works,” Dwight said. “If I didn’t injure myself while I was rehabbing then there would have been a pretty good chance to keep me. You just never know. You feel confident in what you’re doing and how you’re progressing.”
Dwight really was unable to work out for most of the ‘07 offseason. He and the Jets agreed that he would be on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list for the first six weeks of the season and be ready for Week 7. Then, he suffered the second injury.
“It was due to over-training,” Dwight said. “I was training my ass off trying to get back on the field. That just happens. It’s unfortunate.”
After being released, Dwight visited New England. He played for the Patriots in 2005, catching 19 passes for 332 yards and two touchdowns, and he knew the team’s system. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a roster spot for him.
“They kind of wanted to get a baseline to see how I was because I had been in the system before,” Dwight said. “They’re always juggling their team around to see if guys can fit in. They were carrying five receivers already. They just wanted to know if I was going to be available if something did happen.
“I was like, “Well, possibly,” I was still coming off an injury. Then, it got kind of quite.”
For the first time in his professional career, Dwight was, what he called “on the street” during a season. He continued working out in New York and watching games on Sundays from his couch.
“It was definitely an experience,” Dwight said. “I mean, it kind of gave me an idea of what it’s going to be like once I retire and not have football as a major part of my life. It was kind of nice in a way because eventually your game is going to end and you’re going to move on and what I really wanted to do was going through my head.
“The other side is that I still want to play. Coming off the couch and playing against guys that had been playing for three months, it was hard as hell the first couple of weeks; just getting back into the game and moving around and getting your flexibility back without off-season workouts. I wasn’t really running since July, so it was tough.”
Then, Dwight worked out for Baltimore and Oakland during the same week, about five games into the season. About 14 days later, the Raiders called. They wanted to make him their third receiver.
“You go from sitting on the coach to a guy that’s going to be in the lineup,” Dwight said. “You go through a few practices and then you’re in a game in Week 6 or Week 7.”
Dwight hit the field in Week 9 against Houston. He played through Week 14 at Green Bay before injuring his hamstring.
The Raiders, with first-year head coach Lane Kiffin, 31, finished a dismal 4-12. It was reported earlier this month that owner Al Davis had asked Kiffin to resign. The franchise has employed five different coaches this decade. The once proud program has fallen on hard times, but Dwight enjoyed the experience.
“It was pretty cool. I was like, ““I’m playing for the Raiders,”” Dwight said. “It was a young team. I was the third or fourth oldest guy on the team, which is kind of nice. You have a lot of guys that are real impressionable and you try to accelerate their knowledge of the game. You feel like you’re almost in a coaching/player position.
“It was neat, though. You can tell the people there love football. They’re wild, man. When you show up and then leave right away as a visiting team, it’s one thing. But when you go out into the community and see all the people so positive about what you’re trying to do and the Raiders, it’s definitely something that those people live for. It’s in their blood, man. The way they dress up and tailgate before games, it’s impressive.”
Dwight, who played with Nick Gallery while at Iowa, suited up with his brother, Robert Gallery, with the Raiders.
“It’s always nice to play with a guy that went to Iowa and was as successful as he was,” Dwight said about the Outland Trophy winner. “I played with his brother and have known Robert for a little bit. It was nice to play with him and watch him play and see how he goes about his job and everything. It was a good experience.”
Raider fans and the media have been tough on Gallery at times. The second overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Gallery has struggled with consistency in the pros. His growth has been hampered by playing for three coaches in four seasons.
“There are a lot of things that go into play for you to be playing your best,” Dwight said. “You have to have other guys around you that are playing great; a coaching staff that’s going to stay around and run the same offense so you can figure out how you can get better at the plays you’re running. When you’re switching offenses, switching quarterbacks, inconsistencies don’t allow you to play at your best whether that’s your inconsistencies or the people around you being inconsistent. To be successful, that’s what it takes.”
Gallery impressed Dwight.
“I like the way that Robert plays,” Dwight said. “He’s a good player. He goes out there and works hard and gets after people. He’s been dealing with some things that have been giving him some struggles but everybody does that. He fights through it. He straps it on and gives it all he’s got.”
A free agent, the Raiders are the only team that can negotiate with Dwight until the free agency signing period begins during the first week of March. He’ll begin working out in February.
Dwight said a return to the Raiders is a possibility, but he also sounds like a man looking to get to the playoffs. Oakland likely will turn to top pick JaMarcus Russell as its starting quarterback in ’08 and continue its rebuilding project.
“He’s got all the skills. Now it’s just a matter of him getting more reps and all that,” Dwight said. “So, do you go through that or do you want to try to sign on a team that’s not in a rebuilding process that maybe needs one or two or three other guys to get them over the top, to get them into the playoffs and go for it. I’m kind of dealing with that.”
Dwight, who played the Super Bowl as a rookie with the Falcons in 1998, also is looking for a good fit for his skills.
“You have to see who is interested and you also have to make some calls and give them an idea that I can be an option for them,” he said.
Even though he was a man without a home for part of last season, Dwight never felt like it was the end.
“That’s going to be my decision,” he said. “I think I can still play. I was kind of disappointed that I missed the last three games because I was starting to play better. I was getting a good feel of being back on the field. It was frustrating.
“That’s why I decided that after this year I’m not going to finish my career like I did this past year. I definitely want to finish it out the right way.”
Dwight experienced his epiphany while watching former Hawkeye teammate Mike Goff and the Chargers take on New England for the AFC Championship on Jan. 20. He attended all three of San Diego’s playoff games.
“I was thinking, man, I would love to be on that field right now, just making plays and competing at that level,” Dwight said. “When you get to that level, when you get to the playoffs, it’s just a whole other speed that the game is played at. It’s so much fun being in that zone as an athlete. You miss that.”
Dwight understands his limitations and the stage of his career at which he stands. He just wants to go out on his feet, not in a trainer’s room. He would like to be a third or fourth receiver that catches 20-30 balls, a few touchdowns and contributes to a winning team.
“That would be good for me,” Dwight said. “I think I can play another two years because I’m ready. I’m ready to go.”