On Monday, Kevin Youkilis returned to Boston to a standing ovation, as he gave his former fan base a tip of the cap. We see those moments in baseball often, where the sport’s focus on one player at the plate allows fans a time to recognize him for his return.
The NBA, too, provides for entertainment when a player makes his first homecoming appearance. Many times, it can be filled with boos, which we saw when LeBron James returned to Cleveland.
With 22 players on the field, the NFL doesn’t give you that in-game drama of a player facing his former team. Quarterbacks can be the exception, though, as we saw when Brett Favre returned to Green Bay in a Vikings uniform in 2009.
Last offseason's player movement didn’t provide for many intriguing homecoming experiences, and the ones that had juicy story lines didn’t pan out. Kevin Kolb missed the Cardinals’ visit to Philadelphia with an injury in Week 10, Albert Hayneswroth had been cut by the time the Patriots traveled to Washington and ditto for Donovan McNabb, who was a free agent when the Vikings played the Redskins.
Unfortunately for fans, and TV networks, Peyton Manning does not travel to play the Colts, and Tim Tebow does not get to return to Denver to play the Broncos. There are still some high-profile players who changed teams this offseason who will be greeted by boos or cheers in homecoming games to watch this season.
49ers at Vikings, Week Three — It won’t be long before Randy Moss makes one of two homecoming trips this season, and Minnesota fans are likely not going to be as receptive as they would have been after his first go-around with the Vikings. In his first seven seasons with the Vikings, Moss asserted himself as one of the best receivers in the game, but his four-game reunion in 2010 was a disaster. He had 13 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns on the field, but was cut in a very publicized exit with details straight out of a reality show, as Moss berated a catering company. After taking spending the 2011 season away from the gridiron, Moss will be out to prove everyone wrong, and he gets an early chance to do so at his former home.
Dolphins at Bengals, Week Five — Chad Ochocinco, like his fellow attention-getting receiver Randy Moss, has a pair of homecoming games this season. This game will be his first regular-season return to Cincinnati, as the Patriots did not play the Bengals last season. Ochocinco may have been a distraction at times, but he was a prolific, Pro Bowl wideout in Cincy, and could get a positive reception when he returns. All eyes will, however, be on Ochocinco’s meeting with his former coach, Marvin Lewis. The two didn’t always get along, and Ochocinco’s Twitter account allowed that to go public at times.
Packers at Colts, Week Five — Manning was not the only longtime Colt to change uniforms this offseason. His center, Jeff Saturday, swapped in his Colts blue for Packers green and yellow. Saturday snapped for the Colts from 1999-2011, playing in 197 games with 188 starts. He has started every game in 10 of his 13 seasons. Saturday’s future was in question when the season ended, whether he would re-sign with Indy, retire or move on to a different club, and now he joins another elite quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. Saturday’s play on the field won’t get much notice in this game, but he is sure to get a warm ovation when he returns to Lucas Oil Stadium.
Falcons at Eagles, Week Eight — Pro Bowl CB Asante Samuel returns to Philly, where he will face the team that traded him this offseason for a seventh-round pick. In his four seasons as a member of the Eagles, Samuel had 23 interceptions, but he made more news off the field in the last 12 months. When the Eagles acquired CBs Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Samuel’s role diminished, and his services simply weren’t needed. The Eagles granted his wish to be traded and Samuel joins a Falcons team that boasts a solid corner duo of Samuel and Brent Grimes. Philadelphia fans are notoriously harsh, and will certainly let Samuel hear it if he blows a coverage.
Bills at Texans, Week Nine — Outside Manning, the highest-profile free agent was DE Mario Williams, and he gets a chance to return home in his first pro season away from Texas. The former No. 1 pick will head to Houston to play the team that drafted him back in 2006. Williams had 53 sacks during his time in Houston, but the Texans decided not to re-sign him — and arguably couldn’t afford him. The Bills gave Williams a massive contract, and expectations are high for Williams to get Buffalo back to the playoffs. Texans fans won’t have hard feelings for Williams, who was the team’s best defensive player in his time there and hardly left on bad terms. They may let ownership hear it, though, if Williams wreaks havoc in another team's uniform.
Chiefs at Browns, Week 14 — Which Peyton Hillis will Browns fans remember when he runs onto the field wearing a Chiefs uniform? Most likely, they will remember the player who rushed for 587 yards and three touchdowns last season in only 10 games while having public contract issues. Hillis may have rumbled for 1,177 yards on the ground, 477 through the air and 13 total scores in 2010, earning him a spot on the Madden cover, but his exit from Cleveland did not cause Browns fans to long for his return, especially considering the team moved on quickly, drafting RB Trent Richardson. Hillis is looking to quiet the doubters and return to form in a backfield with plenty of potential paired with Jamaal Charles. And Hillis may relish in the opportunity to run through a Cleveland defense.
49ers at Patriots, Week 15 — NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” gets one of the games that has received the most hype. Two legitimate Super Bowl contenders square off in this late-season bout, but it also will represent Randy Moss’ return to Foxborough. While he had three sensational seasons with the Patriots (including 23 touchdowns in 2007), no tears were shed when the Pats shipped him to Minnesota in 2010. Moss had only nine catches for 139 yards and three scores that season with New England before the trade. Moss has always maintained his respect for the Patriots, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, so he should expect a warmer greeting than he will get in Minnesota.
Jaguars at Dolphins, Week 15 — OK, there’s a very good chance Chad Henne does not take a snap in his homecoming to South Florida, but considering Blaine Gabbert’s struggles last season and the fragile position of quarterback, you never know. Henne is the signalcaller with the best chance to face his 2011 team in 2012. His four years in Miami were filled with inconsistent play and ill-timed turnovers. Henne regained his starting job in ’11 after losing it to Chad Pennington in the middle of '10 (and then getting benched in the regular-season finale). Dolphins fans were pleased to see him leave town — though their team's quarterback situation has not improved greatly. If Henne does get a chance, one has to imagine he would love to stick it to a fan base that booed him relentlessly, and those boo birds are sure to return when he heads to Sun Life Stadium in a Jags jersey.
Dolphins at Patriots, Week 17 — Assuming Ochocinco stays with the Dolphins for the entire season, he will conclude the regular season by returning to Foxborough, where he was a massive disappointment last season. Ochocinco will look to prove to Patriots fans that it was their team’s offense, more than his skill, which induced a season with 15 catches and one touchdown. Ochocinco “behaved” during his time with the Patriots, abiding by “The Patriot Way,” and he has plenty of respect for Belichick. The fans may not be willing to recognize that, however, and will instead focus on Ochocinco’s struggles in the 2011 season.
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