I was sitting around, minding my own business on Friday, when I received this text message from my cousin: “AB arrived at Oakland’s training camp in a hot air balloon.”
In case you don’t know, Antonio Brown, the former Steelers receiver who burned every bridge on his way out of Pittsburgh this past offseason (if you’ve ever been to Pittsburgh, you know that’s a lot of bridges), arrived to the training camp facilities of his new team—the Raiders— in a hot air balloon.
Anyway, back to my cousin’s text. The second I read it, I just burst out laughing, I mean hard and loud. Thankfully, I was by myself, but I don’t think I could have contained my chuckles even if I was in a dentist office full of people waiting to get root canals.
And, believe it or not, my laughs weren’t of the “What a stupid idiot! I’m glad he’s gone!” variety. They were of an affectionate nature, and the thought of Brown descending upon Napa Valley, the site of the Raiders training camp, in a hot air balloon, well, that’s the No. 84 that I cherish, that I have fond memories of.
That’s the AB that once arrived to training camp in an old-fashioned, convertible Rolls Royce, complete with a chauffeur who was wearing one of those chauffeur hats. This is the AB who, just last season, flew to Latrobe, Pa. in, of all things, a helicopter.
That’s the endearing side of Brown, an image that, paired with the one of him being the hardest worker on the team, made him a fan favorite. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he was also the very best wide-receiver in the NFL, a man who helped the Steelers win game after game during his nine seasons in Pittsburgh.
Those things, along with his penchant for elaborate touchdown celebrations, didn’t make Brown a jerk.
I realize there were many people who didn’t like that side of Brown, even before they knew what a diva he actually was.
That’s why it wasn’t a huge surprise to read the comments on social media from many fans who were not very happy that Eli Rogers, a slot receiver literally fighting for his job, arrived to training camp on Thursday in a semi-truck while carrying a barbell and sporting a hardhat and a PennDot-looking outfit. The message: Rogers is here to put in the work.
To me, that was funny and a little inspirational. If you’re looking for a new attitude this year, that’s an entertaining way of showing the public that the Steelers are all about business in 2019. What, you didn’t like it? Are you saying you don’t like a blue-collar work-ethic? Are you saying you don’t like blue-collar workers? This is the Internet, and I will say you do, which will kind of make it true. BOYCOTT YOU!
Believe it or not, a Facebook poster actually made a great point regarding Rogers’ arrival to camp, one I will elaborate on. Anytime the subject of a player having a little too much fun—touchdown celebrations, social media videos, funny camp entrances, etc—is discussed, the general consensus among the fans is something like, “I just wish he realized this is his job, and not the time to be having fun.” But when the subject of money is discussed—specifically, whether or not a player should get the raise he thinks he deserves—the general attitude is, “These guys are getting paid a lot of money to play a kid’s game, one that you or I would play for free.”
Back to AB.
There’s no question he deserves all of the hate and the ridicule he has received since leaving Pittsburgh. This was a man that fans were willing to embrace and love fully, and he paid them back with one huge punch in the gut on the way out of town. He dissed his teammates. He dissed his coach.
In his final days as a Steeler, he acted unhinged off the field with public displays that included the unfortunate incident in Miami, as well as the dangerous race down McKnight Road because he was late to a team meeting.
Oh yeah, Brown was often late to meetings and practices. Perhaps, even worse, he often arrived hours late to public appearances—including at Children’s Hospital.
These are the acts that expose a person’s true character. These are the traits that may hinder a team’s ability to win.
When the quarterback feels that he must get you the football X amount of times, or you’ll simply be insufferable? How can that not affect a team and its chances to succeed?
As for the fun stuff, that’s got nothing to do with anything. In-fact, when it comes from the right people, we laugh, we think it’s endearing. JuJu Smith-Schuster is a prime example.
There are no rumors of him being late to meetings or being difficult to work with. By all indications, he’s been nothing but a breath of fresh air and a positive ray of sunlight.
The next time Smith-Schuster entertains the masses with one of his zany social experiments, we’ll laugh. Through two seasons as an NFL player and a Pittsburgh Steelers, he’s earned that right with his demeanor, his character and his play on the field.
Sadly for Brown, the next time he pulls a stunt like he did with the hot air balloon, that will likely be met with scorn. But that’s not because having fun is bad. It’s because being a jerk and a selfish and self-centered teammate is.
It’s just too bad Antonio Brown’s true character has seemingly been revealed in recent years. Fun AB, that Boomin’ side of him, is one I wish I could still embrace.