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|02-01-2011, 08:11 PM||#1|
A Son of Martha
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Receiver Brown Making Key Plays for Steelers
Receiver Brown Making Key Plays for Steelers
By GREG BISHOP
ARLINGTON, Tex. — As the mayhem of media day unfolded all around him Tuesday, Antonio Brown retired to a far sideline at Cowboys Stadium. He wore a baseball cap turned backward and Gucci sunglasses, as if he wished to remain anonymous.
One month ago that strategy might have worked. But not here. Not anymore.
For all the attention lavished on the right arm of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the hair of safety Troy Polamalu and the beard of defensive end Brett Keisel, Brown, as much as any Steeler, is responsible for Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl return. Before the playoffs, he was a mostly anonymous rookie wide receiver. Now, he is the Steelers’ king of clutch.
“I’m still A. B.,” he told a handful of reporters. “I’m still Antonio Brown. I haven’t reached celebrity status. But people definitely know who I am now.”
Brown, 22, grew up in Miami, in neighborhoods infested with drugs and gangs, a place he compared with the video game Grand Theft Auto in way of explanation. But this area also produced a number of elite receivers, like Chad Ochocinco and Dwayne Bowe.
The common thread, Brown said, is streets that teach “survival techniques.”
As it was, Brown played quarterback in high school. He first tried receiver at a local all-star game. He walked on at Central Michigan. He declared early for the draft, after his junior season, and fell to the sixth round; 194 players were chosen before him.
In Pittsburgh’s first 11 games, Brown was inactive seven times. He caught 16 passes in the regular season, and 14 of those came in the final five games. His ascendance came steeply, sharply, as the season neared its end.
Brown often commiserated with Emmanuel Sanders, a good friend and fellow rookie wideout. They would play the Madden video game and lament their personal rankings, both of which were in the 50s, an insult, even for two relative unknowns.
Yet Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said he never doubted Brown was capable of major contributions. Tomlin described the Steelers’ philosophy as “every man in the helmet,” that he expects every player to make decisive plays, if called upon, at one time or another.
“We have had young men who show legitimate examples of that throughout the season for us, like Antonio Brown, having an opportunity to make splash plays,” Tomlin said. “We don’t grade on a curve. If I give any of these guys a helmet on Sunday, I expect them to put themselves in position to be the reason why we win.”
Brown embodied Tomlin’s philosophy throughout January. He hauled in a crucial, acrobatic 58-yard reception from Roethlisberger that set up the winning score against Baltimore in the divisional round. He did so by pinning the ball between his right hand and the emblem on his helmet.
The play evoked comparisons to David Tyree’s catch for the Giants in the Super Bowl three seasons ago. Brown, hoping to reach the game himself, added another round of heroics against the Jets for the A.F.C championship.
Again, his best plays came at crucial junctures. Like on the kickoff he returned 27 yards late in the fourth quarter, providing field position that allowed Pittsburgh to be less conservative in its play-calling, to better protect a 24-19 lead. Or the third-down catch he made later on that drive, a 14-yard strike that finished the Jets for good.
Such play reminded football aficionados of his father, Touchdown Eddie Brown, who Antonio described as a great influence. His father played 10 seasons in the Arena Football League, mostly with Albany, and he caught more than 300 touchdown passes. In 2006, he was named the best player in league history.
His son, once called upon, proved similarly electric. On his first N.F.L. play, in September against Tennessee, he took a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. Then came his playoff heroics, similar to his best games at Central Michigan, both in bowls in his final two seasons.
Brown would prefer, of course, that his best game is his next game, on the biggest stage of his young life. Hines Ward, a mentor, said he tried to temper expectations, to remind Brown that the perks, a police escort and the national stage, would mean little without a victory. Brown said he understood all that.
“I just want to keep my shades on, man,” he said.
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