TAMPA – Anthony Henry has had many memorable moments inside Raymond James Stadium, but none could compare to Sunday’s. After donning the green and gold for USF, Henry returned to the site of his college triumphs Sunday, but this time as a visitor.
“It was different for me, looking across from the other side,” Henry said.
On the home side of the field for the Bulls, Henry had many a fine day. A four-year captain, Henry holds the school records for interceptions in a career and a season, while missing only two games. As his Cleveland Browns succumbed 17-3 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, one day’s memories couldn’t match four years of excellence.
“This was just one game I’ve played in this stadium as a professional, but college always had a lot guys I went to school with, and we had a lot of fun,” Henry said. “I have a lot of memories of my college career.”
The second ever Bull to be drafted when he was sandwiched between Kenyatta Jones and Bill Gramatica in the fourth round of the 2001 draft, Henry was the first to make his mark with a stellar rookie campaign.
While starting only two games, Henry racked up 10 interceptions to tie Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber for the league lead and finished second in the balloting for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Henry’s sophomore season hasn’t progressed as well as he has yet to find his first pick of 2002. Sunday, Tampa Bay rarely looked Henry’s way.
“I feel teams will still throw my way,” Henry said. “Teams have a game plan also. They may run, they may throw, (but) we have to be prepared either way.”
All the preparation in the world couldn’t brace Cleveland and Henry for the way the Browns have started the 2002 season.
Cleveland was on its way to a victory in Week 1 against Kansas City, but Dwayne Rudd took off his helmet and threw it in celebration when he thought the Browns’ defense had stopped the Chiefs to end the game. But Kansas City quarterback Trent Green had lateraled to lineman John Tait, who ran it up the sideline. Rudd’s penalty gave Kansas City one more play, which it used to kick the game-winning field goal.
The Browns’ bad luck continued in Week 4, when Cleveland blocked a field goal on second down in overtime to keep the game tied, but Pittsburgh recovered the ball behind the line of scrimmage to give the Steelers another chance to win the game, which they did with a 31-yard Todd Peterson field goal.
“We understand that football is a tough game,” Henry said. “It’s not hard at all when you understand that it’s a tough game. We just need to keep working hard and stay in a positive mindset. We’ll be all right.”
But all that was in the back of Henry’s mind when he stepped on the Raymond James Stadium turf again for the first time since he concluded his USF career with a 59-0 thrashing of Austin Peay in 2000.
“That was always a dream of mine (to play as a professional in Raymond James), and when I saw it on the schedule, I really started looking forward to it,” Henry said.
While his team was overwhelmed by Tampa Bay, Henry had a banner day, blocking a Martin Gramatica field goal and collecting five tackles. The 6-foot, 198-pound cornerback had a pair of tackles dragging down Mike Alstott and got the opportunity to match up one-on-one with All-Pro wide-out Keyshawn Johnson.
“He’s a big physical back, and we couldn’t stop him,” Henry said. “We were out there, and we weren’t trying to gang tackle. You have to gang tackle to get him down.
“I love Keyshawn. He has a lot of enthusiasm and passion for the game. I really respect him a lot.”
Even with a triumphant homecoming, Henry remains the same to those who knew him when he was a starter on USF’s inaugural team in 1997.
“I saw him make a few tackles on Alstott, and I was proud of him,” four-year teammate Joe Morgan said. “He didn’t get run over – no highlights on SportsCenter.
“To me, he hasn’t really changed. With me, he’s still the same down-to-earth guy. It was great playing with him, and he’s a hell of an athlete, probably the best one I’ve played with in my career.”