T.J. Houshmandzadeh admits that he's not sure how he'll react when he walks into Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.
In eight years as a member of the Bengals, Houshmandzadeh posted five seasons of over 900 receiving yards, made a Pro Bowl in 2007, and helped lead the franchise from perennial cellar-dweller to respectability.
Now, the Ravens' newest wide receiver will return to Cincinnati to take on his former team for the first time since leaving to sign a free agent contract with the Seahawks in 2009.
"I look back at it as a positive experience, because that's where I got started," Houshmandzadeh said. "That's basically where the foundation started for me in the NFL, and had it not been for Cincinnati, I wouldn't be here."
A seventh-round pick of the Bengals back in 2001, Houshmandzadeh battled through injuries early in his career and worked his way up the depth chart. He got along well with Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who he credits for staying patient with him and allowing him to develop as a receiver.
"I think had I been on another team I probably would have been released and I'd be at home right now doing lord knows what because of my injury situation," Houshmandzadeh said. "Marvin stuck by me when I was hurt. The next year, I got a chance to play and I played fairly well. So, that personally, is what I remember.
"And then team-wise, the reputation of the Bengals, the stigma around them nationally that basically when I was there we sucked, and we got better and we were a good team, good offensively. We were going to make it fun. We were going to make it TV-friendly, regardless if we won or lost. It was always TV-friendly because we were putting up points."
Partly because he hates change, Houshmandzadeh said he had intentions of re-signing with the Bengals when he became a free agent last year. The 32-year-old said he didn't quite feel the Cincinnati brass had a mutual desire to keep him around, however, which left Houshmandzadeh feeling a little awkward.
"Kind of like [if] you have a woman and you really like her, but she doesn't really like you, and you don't know when to leave her alone," Houshmandzadeh said.
So, he opted to head out west, signing a five-year, $40 million contract with the Seahawks. A year later, Houshmandzadeh is with the Ravens, and he'll be back in his old stomping grounds.
He says he doesn't hold any ill-will towards Lewis, Bengals owner Mike Brown or the organization, and is looking forward to playing in front of the Cincinnati fans and seeing how they react to seeing him in purple and black.
"[I] expect the worst, hope for the best," Houshmandzadeh said. "I don't know either way if it will bother me. I don't know. I started at the bottom, so maybe they have a little more apathy towards me because I was a guy that started at the bottom. I was always supposed to get cut every year, so maybe they feel like I was a guy that always had to earn his keep."