As a rookie with the Buffalo Bills in 1995, Ruben Brown looked around the locker room and saw Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith and Andre Reed. Those were the driving forces behind the Bills' four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
Back then, Brown figured that playing in the Super Bowl would be a routine thing, but he left the Bills after nine seasons without ever playing in the big game.
The veteran left guard and eight-time Pro Bowler will finally get that chance if the Chicago Bears beat the New Orleans Saints today in the NFC Championship Game in Soldier Field.
"I'm just taking it all in," Brown said. "I'm enjoying it. I'm not trying to downplay it because it's been so many years trying to get here. I'm happy for the simple fact that we have some good guys, the type of guys we had my early years in Buffalo. We have the same type of family atmosphere here, too, and it feels good."
There was a time when Brown wondered if he would ever be in this position. The Bears went 5-11 in his first year under rookie coach Lovie Smith. They started the 2005 season at 1-3 before an eight-game winning streak propelled them to the first of two straight NFC North titles.
The losing and the season-ending neck injury he suffered in that first year frustrated Brown, who flirted with the idea of retiring.
"I was at a point where I was thinking, 'I've done a lot in the league but can I get to the next game?' " said Brown, who has started 39 regular-season and playoff games, including 25 straight, for the Bears. "It didn't look like that at first because we started out so rough. But Lovie kept saying we are going to get there, and the rest of the players kept giving me a little boost. It made me feel good to see how happy all the young guys were that I was here. From there, it kind of snowballed and we are here now."
Brown is looking forward to today's game. He's been waiting 12 years for this opportunity.
"I'm excited about this, but I am focused in on it because we've got to get this next win," he said. "We have to take advantage of this opportunity because there is no guarantee we'll get another one. Believe me, I know."