Published February 02, 2011
FORT WORTH, Texas – There were nights when Antonio Brown slept in cars, at friends' houses and anywhere he could put his head down a few hours.
That's what passed for home just a few years ago for the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver.
"He's a guy who has those rough edges, a guy who has dealt with adversities through life," teammate Arnaz Battle said Wednesday. "For him to take those negative events and turn them into positives, he's done a really great job."
Through it all, Brown says he always expected to be exactly where he is this week — in the Super Bowl.
Even when he was waiting for a chance on the Pittsburgh Steelers' sideline. Even back when a football career seemed farfetched. Even while he bounced around the streets of Miami as a 16-year-old.
"You've got to be patient, man," Brown said softly. "Patience builds perseverance and it builds humility and it teaches you a lot. I just had to go through that."
Brown was inactive for seven of Pittsburgh's first 11 games, and caught only 16 passes in the regular season. Then came the postseason — and stardom.
"I think I'm a little popular these days," he said with a big smile. "It's pretty sweet."
First, there was the acrobatic 58-yard catch that set up the winning score against Baltimore in the divisional round. The grab — a perfect throw from Ben Roethlisberger that Brown pinned against his helmet with his right hand — has become a big hit on YouTube, with more than 22,000 views since the Jan. 15 game.
A week later, Brown went down to his knees and caught a third-down pass that sealed a victory over the New York Jets and a trip to Dallas.
"For a young guy to come in like that and make some big plays for his team, it tells you a lot about him," said Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson, who will see Brown up close Sunday.
After both catches, Brown excitedly raised his arms in front of the Pittsburgh crowd, which raucously cheered their budding Mr. Clutch.
"He doesn't do a lot," Roethlisberger said, "but he makes the big play at the end of the game."
Not a bad reputation to have, especially when most people didn't know who he was a month ago.
"Yeah, man, whew," Green Bay safety Nick Collins said. "That guy has made some big-time plays for them."
Brown says he had a bumpy childhood and that his father wasn't there when he needed him most. "Touchdown" Eddie Brown was off playing professional football, also as a wide receiver, and on his way to eventually being selected the best player in Arena Football League history.
Brown said he and his dad didn't stay in touch until recently; he wasn't there while the Steelers rookie was at Central Michigan setting the school record for receptions.
"I didn't really talk to him, man," Brown said. "I just tried to talk to God. I've become really spiritual and I've just tried to live within myself."
Brown's newly developed faith, he believes, helped steer him from trouble to stardom — and repaired the rift between father and son.
"My dad is really cool, but it's not a relationship where it really should be at," he said. "I call him every now and then to kind of check in. My situation is different than his. I think God just created some perspective between me and him, and I'm just trying to follow my journey."
It's a path that led him to Pittsburgh as a sixth-round pick last April. He has joined Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders as the young targets — nicknamed the "Young Money Fellas" — Roethlisberger can rely on as down-field threats.
"I love him," wide receiver Hines Ward said when asked about Brown. "I'm not surprised. He was always full of talent. It was just a matter of learning the system."
That took some time. He spent the early part of the season standing on the sideline in sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt, inactive and itching to put on some pads and a helmet like the rest of his teammates.
"I always knew I was capable," Brown said. "I just tried to prepare my mind for every different phase of the game and take my mind through every single circumstance and every situation that I could be a part of.
"I'm just thankful for the opportunity that came."
He's made the most of it, so far.
"To go through all of those types of things, I've seen many people go a totally different way and make things worse," Battle said. "He has stayed humble and kept a strong faith, worked hard and persevered through some really tough times. Antonio is being rewarded now."