Yes, another article about the soap opera that is the Pittsburgh Steelers, with polarizing character, Antonio Brown, starring in today’s episode.
Also starring in today’s episode is Ben Roethlisberger, a quarterback and a man who recently claimed Brown was one of his closest friends on the team, that is, of course, if he was referring to something called a “frenemy,” an unofficial word teenagers know about all too well.
However, Brown and Roethlisberger aren’t teenagers (in theory), but they are, no doubt, frenemies. Oh, sure, they may talk a good game. They may laugh it up on the sidelines. They may even have each other’s cell phone numbers.
They may even text one another:
“You got the old gunslinger this week, Tone?”
However, Roethlisberger and Brown are about as close as William Frawley (Fred Mertz) and Vivian Vance (Ethel Mertz) were on the set of I Love Lucy. In fact, Roethlisberger and Brown are about as close as Roethlisberger and Hines Ward were back in the day (they weren’t even close, like at all).
The reason I bring up the frenemy relationship between Roethlisberger and Brown is because it has been said by more than one person recently that Brown’s latest antics—failing to show up for practice prior to a must-win Week 17 game, failing to show up for meetings prior to a must-win Week 17 game, leaving at halftime of a must-win Week 17 game after he was deactivated by head coach Mike Tomlin, and failing to return the phone call(s) of Art Rooney II, the team president/owner and the man most responsible for Brown’s $17 million annual salary—are the result of a rift between he and Roethlisberger and that the latter is perhaps just as culpable and deserving of blame as the former.
And you know what? I have many reasons to believe this is true about Roethlisberger. Let’s face it, Roethlisberger has always been a bit of a diva. I mean, it’s baked right into being a franchise quarterback. Even Drew Brees, the most genuine and nicest franchise quarterback on the planet, is probably a bit of a diva.
And Roethlisberger is many things—awesome, clutch, great, fantastic, big, hard to bring down, tough, super—but he’s not a warm and fuzzy character. There’s always been a bit of a disconnect between he and the fans. Even though Brown may be Public Enemy No. 1 in Steeler Nation right now, there was a time when his popularity was Boomin’. There was a time when he was likely the most popular player on the Steelers roster. Have you ever really been able to say that about Big Ben?
Sure, Roethlisberger is certainly popular, but that popularity is tied to his position, talent and his importance to the Steelers franchise. His No. 7 jersey is no doubt one of the highest selling on the team. But, again, that kind of stuff goes right along with being a franchise quarterback.
Back to AB's rumored frustrations.
There are many unspoken diva-like perks that are a part of being a franchise quarterback.
Franchise quarterbacks are never allowed to be hit during practice—sometimes, even during games. Can you imagine if wide receivers were protected from physical harm during practice? “Divas!”
A quarterback chews a receiver out after he runs the wrong route: “My kind of leader!”
A receiver chews a quarterback out after he throws a pass at his feet: “Diva!”
A quarterback rips into a receiver on the sideline: “Taking charge!”
A receiver rips into a quarterback on the sideline: “Diva!”
A franchise quarterback gets to behave like a diva while never being called out for it--kind of like that older sibling that bullies everyone in the house when Mom and Dad aren't looking and has them dooped into thinking he or she is an angel.
Anyway, my point in all of this is I can understand Brown’s frustration with the hierarchy on the team—franchise quarterback > franchise receiver. But I can’t understand why Brown doesn’t understand that this will never change.
It has been said that one of Brown’s biggest frustrations—in addition to Roethlisberger apparently calling Brown out in team meetings and on the practice field—is Tomlin’s alignment with his franchise quarterback.
Guess what? If I’m Tomlin, I’m doing whatever I can to align myself with my franchise quarterback because that, my super-diva, super-receiver, is who butters his bread.
No head coach is much of anything without his franchise quarterback (no, not even Bill Belichick), and not even the most capable of head coaches can truly win a power-struggle with a fully-functioning franchise quarterback (see the Jimmy Garoppolo trade).
What makes Brown think he’d win one?
Did he think his coach and his bosses would side with him over the only person on the roster who they could simply never win another championship without?
It’s like what Terry Bradshaw told Dwight White one time in practice: “You may lose with me, but you’ll never win without me.”
In my opinion, Antonio Brown is the greatest talent on the Steelers roster. And he’s no doubt the greatest receiver in franchise history (this is hardly up for debate). But he’s not indispensable, at least not when he forces his bosses to choose sides between himself and the only talent in the organization who really is indispensable.
Therefore, all of you non-quarterback former players out there who have been banging the “Blame Big Ben” drum recently, I hear you loud and clear.
But Art II, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert are tone (as in Antonio Brown) deaf when it comes to any power-struggle involving Ben Roethlisberger.
As far as they're concerned, he's the perfect angel.