clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

For Antonio Brown, fighting for his place in the sun has been a lifelong pursuit

Not only is No. 84 the NFL’s greatest and most competitive wide receiver, but he’s equally feisty off of the field.

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Jacksonville at Pittsburgh Steelers Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” (Mark Twain)

Americans traditionally have honored the self-made individual who leverages God-given abilities to power a meteoric rise to greatness. It’s the classic Horatio Alger tale of the poor boy who overcomes mean circumstances to set the world on its ear. By this standard alone, Antonio Brown commands and richly deserves considerable respect. Like his teammates Artie Burns and Eli Rogers, Antonio grew up in the impoverished Liberty City section of Miami — a notorious zip code that south Florida visitors generally are warned to avoid.

As a youth, Brown faced the additional burden of a broken home — his parents separating during the mid-1990s. Largely because of this family tumult, Brown was fending for himself by the tender age of 16. For a time, he found himself roaming from pillar to post, without any home to call his own. The difficulties of getting his education under these circumstances denied Brown an opportunity to attend Florida State University after he graduated as a star athlete from Miami’s Norland High School in 2005. Instead, he needed to take prep classes at North Carolina Tech the following year to bolster his college eligibility. Even given the athletic prowess he shared with his father, former Arena Football League star ”Touchdown” Eddie Brown, the obstacles confronting young Antonio often must have seemed monumental.

But that’s precisely when Brown reached down deep within himself and found the fortitude to grasp his football dream. In a May 2014 interview with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Patricia Sheraden, he discussed this period in his life. “When everyone turned around on me, all I had to do was rely on myself,” Brown said. “I’ve got a strong spirit that I rely on and go into.”

As Pittsburgh sports fans have learned since he was drafted in 2010, Brown’s incorrigible spirit not only is strong, but also occasionally is unleashed. So whether he’s doing a press interview, trashing a Gatorade cooler, posting clandestine smartphone feeds from the Steelers‘ locker room, or dropping one of his cryptic, social-media quips, No. 84 cannot truly be accused of doing anything more harmful than simply being Antonio. This is part and parcel of what makes Brown the unparalleled player — and person — he is.

In reality, Brown has been striving for success under very challenging circumstances for his entire life. Despite his outstanding achievements and princely salary — he’s not resting on his laurels, but still fighting to excel. This is the kid who enrolled at Central Michigan University as a walk-on receiver in 2007, and ultimately was selected by the Steelers as the 22nd overall WR in the 2010 NFL Draft. He’s the guy who chose No. 84 for his jersey — not in tribute to any football idol — but because the product of eight and four is 32 — the number of NFL teams that bypassed him throughout the early rounds of the Draft (Brown was selected in the sixth round as the 195th overall pick). If anything, this demonstrates that AB is unafraid to raise some hackles anytime he feels he‘s not being properly respected. Should we be at all surprised, then, that Brown is annoyed by the constant hounding of reporters, or that one of his sons is named “Autonomy?“

That fiercely independent, self-reliant spirit which Steelers Nation sees on display every week during the season comes from all the years Brown spent fighting his way from the ghetto to the top of the mountain against the very longest of odds. Perhaps more than any other current member of the Black-and-gold besides his compadre and trigger-man, Ben Roethlisberger, Brown personifies the very essence of Steelers Football in its contemporary form. His unique combination of athletic talent and inner drive place Brown truly in a class by himself, both as a player and a person.

So the next time AB does something to “jar your preserves” (as my grandpa often said), it might help to keep a couple of very important things in mind. First, of course, Antonio is a truly rare talent who undoubtedly will go down in NFL history as one of the greatest ever to play his position. Secondly, Brown didn’t attain his current, superstar status by taking the easy or safe road in life. His personal credo was perhaps best stated during the Sheraden interview, when he candidly observed, “Everything that’s really difficult is a blessing in disguise, and that’s the approach I take.”

It‘s more than mere athletic talent, but Brown’s conception of life‘s many challenges as blessings-in-disguise which sets him apart from so many of his NFL counterparts. It’s his combative spirit and unwavering character which affirms No. 84‘s value as a unique treasure — one that we may only hope will continue to amaze and amuse us until the day he retires — of course — as a Pittsburgh Steeler.