The Steelers have always seemed to have a stalwart catching passes in the Steel City. The Pittsburgh pass-catcher of the 30s was Bill Sortet. Elbie Nickel and Val Jasante led the end-of-the 40s, while Ray Matthews was the man of the 1950s. Buddy Dial, Gary Ballman and Roy Jefferson were stars of the 60s. The 70s started with Ron Shanklin ruling, but Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were revolutionary in that decade. The 80s were defined by Stallworth and Louis Lipps, while Yancey Thigpen and Charles Johnson made the 90s nice. In the 2000s, Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes were the prize guys. Mike Wallace seemed to be the talent for the 2010s, but that was short-lived. The reason for that was the surprising emergence of a sixth-rounder out of Central Michigan...Antonio Tavaris Brown.
Who is the cream of this incredible crop? Stallworth and Swann were paramount in delivering four championships, ranking third and sixth respectively in receiving yards and fourth and sixth in receptions. These two were considered the preeminent receivers in the team’s history. Heath Miller is regarded as the finest TE ever to wear the black-and-gold with 592 catches (ranks 3rd) and 6,569 yards (ranks 4th). Louis Lipps (358 receptions/6,018 yards) ranks fifth in both categories. Ward is the reigning champ, and tops the charts with both 1,000 receptions and 12,083 yards, but like Stallworth (14 seasons/165 games) and Miller (11 seasons/168 games)...Hines accumulated that top status in a high number of seasons (15) and games (217).
Brown came to the Steelers almost as an afterthought. The son of perhaps the greatest Arena Leaguer in history, Eddie Brown of the Albany Firebirds, Antonio joined a crowded wide receiver stable which featured Ward, Wallace, Arnaz Battle, the returning Antwaan Randle-El and third-rounder Emmanuel Sanders. His return skills helped get him drafted and displace Stefan Logan. His work ethic and drive kept him on the team, despite Bruce Arians allegedly lobbying to release him. Brown broke out in 2011, being named a Pro-Bowler when he became the first NFL player to eclipse 1,000 yards in both receiving and returns in the same season. When Wallace’s contract demands got combative, the organization surprised many by awarding Brown with the big contract (five-year/$42.5 Million) and letting the speedster walk the following year. After injuries derailed his 2012 season, No. 84 began an epic run (never-before-or-since-accomplished) of five-straight seasons with over 100 receptions. His lowest yardage total in that span was 1,284 in 2016, 101 catches in 2017 and eight touchdowns in 2013. In eight seasons, he was named All-Pro four times, and to the Pro Bowl six times. This tops everybody ahead of him on the list.
No. 84, in only 115 career games, ranks second in catches (733)/receiving yards (9,910) and third in career TD catches (59) behind Ward’s (85) and Stallworth’s (63). Two seasons would be a stretch for Brown to catch Ward with receptions and TDs, but the 2,174 needed to be the yardage champ seems doable. Being under contract for another three years, the Miami native seems like a lock, barring injury, to end his career atop these three major categories for the Steelers.
All of the other players ranked in the top-6 in team-receiving history, except Lipps (who never played in one), are Super Bowl champions. Ward and Swann are SB MVPs, while Stallworth could, and should, have been named one for his performance in Super Bowl XIV. Brown was not a big factor in his only SB appearance, a loss to Green Bay his rookie year.
With all of Antonio’s tremendous accomplishments, he’s considered by some as one of the greatest of receivers in Steelers’ history. But some are giving him the Dan Marino treatment. Regardless of a ring, I think Marino is one of history’s best. At this point, I feel AB is too on the franchise level. But still the belief is that he won’t be considered the king of Steelers “Catch Mountain” until he has a ring on his finger. Brown is driven to win a title, and has expressed his intense desire to do so.
A Lombardi validated Bill Cowher’s successful career even further, and it would do the same for Antonio Brown. But the major question remaining still is whether the absence of a Super Bowl title is the main factor keeping Brown from being named “Best Steelers Receiver” of all-time? And if so, would one be enough?