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02-05-2011, 07:03 AM
Steelers rookie Brown overcomes difficult past

By Scott Brown
Saturday, February 5, 2011

DALLAS The biggest stage in sports won't faze Steelers rookie receiver Antonio Brown.

That is because of what it took for him to get to Super Bowl XLV.

Brown is not only a former walk-on at Central Michigan; the guy who has given the offense a jolt during the past month was homeless for a couple of months as a 16-year-old.

"I've been fighting for my life before and sleeping in cars and trying to find a place to lay my head," Brown said. "I've had situations where I've had nowhere to go. This is the easy part. I overcame life."

Brown, who has turned in two of the biggest catches of the postseason, arguably has come further than anyone who will suit up for the 6:30 p.m. game Sunday.

He grew up in a rough section of Miami, and, while he was in high school, his mother married. Brown didn't get along with his stepfather.

"There came a point where my mom had to make a decision, and it was best for me to go," Brown said. "I wanted her to be happy, and as a young man I had to spread my wings and fly myself."

He easily could have followed some of his close friends into the vortex of crime and drugs. But when he hung out on the street corner, it was usually because he had nowhere else to go after football practice not because he wanted to make a score.

Brown said he never went hungry or wanted for shelter. But the Steelers' primary kickoff returner sometimes would get a hotel room for a couple of hours, money permitting, just so he could sleep in a bed.

"I did what I had to do to survive. I never sold drugs," Brown said. "I always had good support from the people who knew me. I didn't take the wrong road. I just take that on the field and use it as fuel to be great."

The 2010 draft may also drive him.

Brown lasted until late in the sixth round despite leaving Central Michigan he earned a scholarship two weeks into his first preseason camp as the school's all-time leading receiver.

The 5-foot-10, 186-pounder may have scared off teams by turning in a 4.5-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. When asked if he simply picked the wrong time to have a bad day, Brown flashed his engaging smile.

"I didn't run in a straight line," said Brown, who left college after his junior season. "I swerved really bad."

The Steelers didn't get a chance to time Brown again, and they were fortunate he was on the board for the second of their two sixth-round picks.

"He was too good to pass up," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said.

Brown not only made the team, but he also accounted for three of the biggest plays of the season.

An 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans in September and a third-down reception late in the AFC Championship Game bookend a 58-yard catch against the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 16.

"That guy has made some big-time plays for them," Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins said.

"I love him," veteran receiver Hines Ward said.

Brown will get some love from an unlikely place tomorrow: the prison where his close friend, Jeff Anderson, is serving time for robbery.

The two grew up together in Miami and were teammates in little league football.

Brown stays in touch with Anderson to offer words of encouragement, and the two talked recently.

"He said he's going to get the whole cell riled up Sunday just to see me play," Brown said.

While plenty of folks will be rooting for Brown from afar, his brothers, Eddie and Desmond, will be in the stands at Cowboys Stadium. Desmond, the youngest of the three, is a student at Pitt and lives with Antonio.

The two are a long way from Miami.

"Now I'm coming home to a nice house and seeing my little brother smiling," Brown said. "It's amazing.

Brown paused and reflected on the path he took to get here.

"This is the easy part," he said. "This is icing on the cake."

Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

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