Nothing Antonio Brown does off the football field is subtle, quiet, or otherwise run-of-the-mill. Be it “Gucci dragons” or vintage Rolls-Royces, everything is designed to make headlines. For some, this is unseemly, a distraction, a representation of look-at-me culture run amok in sports.
Those voices of dissent need to be seated and be quiet. Because when Antonio Brown is on the football field, he wears No. 84, not a dragon suit, and he uses his legs to get around, not an 80-year-old luxury car. And, in case anyone caught up in the theater of the absurd that surrounds him daily forgot, Sunday was another example of why he’s one of the best ever at his position — not only in Steelers, but in league history.
Here’s a jarring, but simple and accurate analysis of that season-opening 21-18 over the Browns: the game is a loss if Antonio Brown is not on the Steelers, and it is anything but his usual brilliant self. He won them the game, period.
Brown was targeted 11 times. He caught 11 passes. He racked up 182 yards, and even though he didn’t score a touchdown, he was the only offensive player that didn’t look as if he had shown up 20 minutes before the opening kick.
Brown’s work included three truly spectacular catches. One, a 50-yarder, came on a tipped pass that he caught thanks to some unwavering concentration, then simply exploded up the middle of the field to turn a modest gain into a huge one. He caught one with his right arm and bicep, while the Cleveland defender tried to rip the left arm from Brown’s body. Finally, with the game very much in the balance, he went up and high-pointed a football in double coverage with such aplomb that the highlight probably made Larry Fitzgerald swoon.
Oh yeah, Brown is 5’10”, not 6’3”, like Fitzgerald.
There was the usual subtle brilliance in other ways, like drawing a big penalty, exploding into the tiniest bit of space to churn out extra yards after the catch, and of course, actually catching all of the passes thrown his way, something that couldn’t be taken for granted when the rest of the team seemed to have a case of the drops for most of the afternoon.
Brown’s sometimes bizarre off-field behavior and the finger-wagging, sanctimonious reaction that it garners obscures the most notable and relevant thing about him. Brown always shows up, and he always delivers the goods. He isn’t the most physically gifted receiver in the league, and given that the other guys on the “best wide receivers in the NFL” list are mostly former first-round picks, his status as a sixth-rounder makes him that much more of an outlier.
He’s far from the tallest, he’s probably not even the fastest guy on his own team, and he isn’t the strongest. But he is arguably the most maniacal worker in the league, a technical savant whose attention to detail on routes and footwork, along with his incredibly reliable hands, makes him the toughest cover in football.
And one more time, in case you don’t want to admit it — Brown’s greatness was the only thing standing between the Steelers and a humiliating loss to open the season.
Next time you’re tempted to roll your eyes and complain, or label Antonio Brown an exemplar of all that is wrong with modern-day professional athlete, do yourself a favor and just let it go. Instead, look skyward and thank your lucky stars, because being a Steelers fan in 2017 means having the privilege of watching one of the best ever.