The 2001 NFL season was its own edition of the "Black Hole" for center Barret Robbins and defensive end Trace Armstrong.
Both proud veterans landed on injured reserve, meaning they could not return until this season, in consecutive weeks a year ago. Robbins returns as the pillar of the Raiders offensive line after suffering torn medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in his knee in an 18-15 loss at Miami.
"I'm real excited," said Robbins, an eighth-year veteran. "It's hard to hide that but right now we've got to really concentrate on our assignments and our game plan but I'm trying not to get too excited. I'm trying to time it to where it hits just right."
Armstrong suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon and landed on injured reserve one week later in a 38-14 win over Seattle at the Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders signed the 15th year veteran as a free agent from Miami after the 2000 season to bolster the pass rush. Armstrong, who has 99.5 career sacks, returns to the same field against the same opponent in the same month Sunday when Oakland hosts Seattle in its regular season opener.
"You're always excited when you get the chance to play," Armstrong said. "This is going to be a sentimental day for me in a lot of ways. When you get to this point in your career and have an injury like I did, there are no guarantees once you can come back."
Robbins and Armstrong made it through the exhibition season without any serious setbacks but playing a full game will be a better barometer of their progress as opposed to one or two quarters in an exhibition game. Their return to the field means the Raiders have to find a replacement for another role.
"We talked in the last preseason game about how we each used to go get hot dogs at halftime," Robbins quipped. "Now, who's going to take that job over? We're both real excited. We both went through rehab at the same time. We're both ready to come out and have a great season."
Now both Robbins and Armstrong can focus on the opponent in front of them rather than making trips to the concession stands.
"That's for sure," Armstrong said with a slight chuckle. "We had a lot of dark moments together. It's just an awful feeling when you are part of a team but not able to help or do anything. B-Rob and I would console each other."