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Understanding the mentality of a wide receiver, such as the Steelers Antonio Brown

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Wide receivers get criticized for complaining about their lack of production, but they also catch heat if they don't produce enough. They're not considered tough, even though they must catch footballs while catching hard hits from defenders. Maybe the life of an NFL receiver isn't as glamorous as one assumes, and maybe they're not all the divas people think they are.

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"I do [remember the amount of passes caught in Super Bowl IX]. In-fact, it was the same number that were thrown to me: Zero."

"Well, John, we won the game, yesterday. How do you feel?" "To tell you the truth, Chuck, I'm a little pissed off." "Why?" "I only caught one pass." "John, what would you rather have happen? Winning the game or catching a bunch of passes?" "Chuck, I'd like to think we could do both."

Those two quotes, both from former NFL wide receivers, seem rather selfish and diva-life, and you probably wonder what prima donnas could have possibly had such attitudes. Actually, those quotes are attributed to two of the most beloved players in Steelers history and two of the most accomplished receivers in NFL history.

The first quote is from an episode of the America's Game series that chronicles the Steelers 1975 season as they pursued their second-straight Super Bowl title. As a back-drop to his epic MVP-performance in Super Bowl X against the Cowboys, in-which he pulled in four passes for 161 yards and the game-clinching 64-yard touchdown in the final moments, Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann talks about his frustrations with not getting one single pass thrown to him in the previous year's Super Bowl.

The second quote is also from an episode of the America's Game series that chronicles the 1979 Steelers as they cemented their legacy by capturing their fourth Super Bowl in a six-year span and became maybe the greatest football dynasty of all-time. As a back-drop to highlighting his break-out year of '79, in-which he had to carry the receiving load (he caught 70 passes for 1,183 yards, as Swann missed several games with injury), as well as his heroics in the fourth-quarter of Super Bowl XIV, when, with Swann out of the game with a head injury, he caught the go-ahead 73-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw followed by a 45-yard grab moments later that paved the way for the Lombardi-sealing win, Hall of Fame receiver John Stallworth talks about his frustrations as a receiver early in his career--including being in Swann's shadow for years, and, of course, his lack of production in that unnamed regular season game that the Steelers won.

It's debatable, of course, but there may not be a more outspoken player with regards to his production than a wide receiver. But if it's what you're being paid to do, why would you be satisfied with running up and down the field all-day and not getting much attention from your quarterback who looks at you like he looks at everyone else while he's calling out play in the huddle? Doesn't he know you're eligible to catch a pass like the other receivers?

"The job of receivers is inherently lonely. They line up at the edge of the field, endure hand-to-hand combat with the man covering them, run at full capacity for ten or twenty or thirty yards or more, and can only hope the quarterback sees them in the three seconds he has to unload the ball. They lack any control over their own destiny, unless they scream, jump up and down, and demand they get the ball, like a six-year-old."

That quote is from "The Ones Who Hit the Hardest," a book that chronicles the Steelers championship-journey from the 1970s and mentions how both Swann and Stallworth would often vie for Bradshaw's attention in-order to get him to notice them.

In-fact, in the extras section of the America's Game episode about the Steelers Super Bowl XIV team, Stallworth said he basically had to come out of his shell and befriend his quarterback in-order for him to get noticed--running his routes properly and getting open weren't enough.

As someone who has played my share of football and wide receiver, I can certainly relate to the frustrations of running down-field time and time again and looking back at the quarterback  as he throws the ball to someone else (someone who may not be getting open as consistently as you). Furthermore, I know what it's like to have a quarterback look right at you as you stand all by yourself with nobody within 10 yards, and still not throw you the football.

When you're playing a position where you're judged by the amount of passes you catch, wouldn't you get frustrated by not even getting the opportunity to catch very many?

As beloved as Hines Ward was in Pittsburgh during his legendary 14-year career, reporters and radio talking-heads would often make fun of him for knowing exactly what his own stats were--including how many passes he caught in a game. But, guess what? Those reporters and radio personalities also knew Ward's statistics, and many of them used those numbers to keep him low on the totem pole when discussing the top receivers of his era. And, when the time comes for Ward, who finished his career with exactly 1,000 receptions, to be considered for Canton, some of those same reporters and radio personalities, the ones with votes for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, will use Ward's stats against him.

You can't have it both ways. You can't call a player a diva for wanting the football more and then use his numbers against him when evaluating his worth.

One thing Ward had going for him during his career was a reputation as maybe the toughest receiver in the game, one who was willing to block all-day long and had no problem mixing it up with defensive backs, linebackers, etc.--a receiver who could dish it out as well as he could take it.

Unfortunately, most receivers don't have that kind of reputation. Many are considered soft and are often criticized for not wanting to go over the middle. In the book "Their Life's Work," Steelers Hall of Fame defensive lineman Mean Joe Greene balks at receiver Jerry Rice being named the greatest player of all time by the NFL Network back in 2010. To paraphrase the legendary No. 75: "All the action is happening in here [the line of scrimmage], and the receivers are standing all the way out there [on the perimeter]."

Questioning a receiver's toughness seems kind of silly. After all, you have to be pretty darn tough to jump up and try to catch a football with two or three defensive players aiming to take your head off and/or drive it into the turf. And forget about going over the middle. I can't even imagine how tough you have to be to concentrate on catching a football while you simultaneously receive a forearm shiver from a 250-pound linebacker.

Swann had to retire prematurely from all the concussions he received during his career--some attributed to malicious acts committed by the likes of defensive backs such as the Raiders George Atkinson, who basically went out of his way to clothesline Swann in a game in 1976 on a play the receiver wasn't even involved in.

What's so tough about hitting a player who wasn't looking, anyway? What's so soft about dropping a football after being  clocked by someone who was targeting you while you were concentrating on a pass?

Back to a receiver's annoyance over his lack of production. Antonio Brown made some headlines back in October because he was frustrated by his numbers during Ben Roethlisberger's month-long absence with an MCL sprain. Maybe it was irrational for Brown to get upset, given that his franchise quarterback was out, and he had two lesser-talents in Mike Vick and then Landry Jones running the offense. But from Week 1 of 2013 through Week 3 of this season when Roethlisberger got hurt, Brown was the most productive receiver in the NFL.

When you're the best at what you do, are you supposed to just sit back and hope the ball comes your way, or should you demand that it does?

Jones made his NFL debut against the Cardinals on October 18. On a play in the third quarter, the young quarterback threw a pass at Brown's feet, and the receiver basically showed Jones up by chewing him out on the field. After the game, Brown was roundly criticized for this behavior, which I suppose was unacceptable, but receivers have to deal with getting chewed out by their quarterbacks on a regular basis. How many times do you see an incomplete pass, followed by a close-up of the quarterback gesturing with his hand that the receiver zigged when he should have zagged?

Seems like a double-standard to me.

Heck, we live in an era now where receivers not only have to take open criticism from their quarterbacks; they catch hell for not doing more to break up an interception on a poorly thrown pass ("Brown should have at least stuck his hand up to tip the pass away").

Again, as someone who has played a lot of receiver, I can tell you that sometimes a ball is so poorly overthrown, you assume it's meant for someone else, and instead of trying to deflect it, you look over your shoulder to see who the target is.

To summarize, receivers are often called divas and independent contractors. They get criticized if they want the ball more, but they also catch heat if they don't produce (and even if they do, the amount of overall targets in a game compared to the actual receptions might lead to a negative grade). Most aren't considered tough, even though they have to make a living catching a football while at the same time catching hard hits from defenders. And they must accept criticism from their quarterbacks if they drop a ball, but they must also prevent poorly thrown passes from being intercepted.

Maybe it's essential that NFL receivers have the personalities so many criticize them for.