Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) is tackled by Baltimore Ravens cornerback Kyle Arrington (24) after making a catch during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016. (Fred Vuich/AP)
For Antonio Brown, the start of the AFC playoffs is not the time to talk about accolades or statistics.
“It's all about being a champion,” Brown said Friday, when he was named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press.
“People remember champions who played with the Steelers. They don't remember guys with a lot of yards and a lot of catches. They remember guys who won championships — i.e, Hines Ward, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann...”
Don't forget Santonio Holmes, whose game-winning catch in Super Bowl XLIII earned him MVP honors.
Holmes was watching the Steelers on Christmas when Brown made his 4-yard catch-and-stretch touchdown to beat the Baltimore Ravens and clinch the AFC North.
Eight years ago, Holmes made a mirror-image 4-yard touchdown against the Ravens — catching it inside the end zone before falling across the goal line.
“That was the first thought that came to my mind,” Holmes said by phone from Columbus, where he is finishing his degree at Ohio State. “We all looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, that reminds me of the play.'
“We reminisced of all the times I had as a Steeler, and that (play) will be forever remembered.”
Holmes will be forever remembered for his tiptoes catch in the right corner of the end zone against the Arizona Cardinals, a 6-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left to clinch the Steelers' sixth Lombardi Trophy.
“When you get a chance to play in the playoffs, that's Steelers football — and every wide receiver that has put on that Steelers jersey and made a name for themselves … did it big in playoff time,” Holmes said. “That's what Antonio Brown is looking for, that moment to put his place up as a Steeler great in the playoffs who performs and helps his team get an opportunity to play in a Super Bowl.”
The Steelers' journey — their Stairway to Seven, if you will — starts with an AFC wild-card playoff game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Heinz Field.
“This is where this journey begins,” Brown said. “I'm prepared and looking for a great opportunity to go out and perform with my teammates.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told Brown that his legacy won't be about stats, despite four straight seasons with at least 100 catches and 1,200 yards.
“What he's chasing is a little bit of football immortality,” Tomlin said. “His legacy and those things are always evolving in championships and championship play.”
While Santonio and Antonio were never teammates, they are connected in team history.
The Steelers traded Holmes to the New York Jets in April 2010 for a fifth-round pick. They dealt that pick to the Cardinals for Bryant McFadden and a sixth-rounder, which the Steelers used to take Brown.
Holmes, who calls himself a “die-hard Steeler till the end,” enjoys watching Brown play his position with similar stature and a willingness to return punts.
“He's my favorite receiver, no doubt,” Holmes said. “No matter how many opportunities he gets, he's going to do everything he can to make sure his team wins.
“I only had a select few number of touchdowns with the Steelers. And pretty much every one of them came at one of the most crucial moments of my career.”
If Holmes could offer any advice for Brown, it's this: Play every play until the last seconds of the clock run off. Make the plays when they come to you. Feel the moment, accept it, take control.
“The more you can do for the team — that's something Coach Tomlin would always say — is something that stuck with me,” Holmes said. “Now (Brown is) one of those guys that's always willing to do more. I know he has what it takes to do more.”
Brown visualizes making the most of his moments, saying he plays them over and over in his mind. After missing the AFC Divisional game at Denver last year with a concussion, Brown hopes to help the Steelers win a Super Bowl.
“Anytime you're a part of the Steelers organization, you understand that it's about being a champion,” Brown said. “It's a championship culture, a championship-type atmosphere, a championship team.
“All you've got to do is walk in here on the second floor and you see those guys' legacy on the wall and you see what it's about. So, being a part of it, me being here for a long time, I'm excited to have the opportunity of urging that experience of hosting a Lombardi.”
For Brown, as it was with Holmes, it's all about being remembered as a Steeler who won a Super Bowl. It's all about being a champion.