Steelers receiver Antonio Brown closes in on some notable team records



The chips do not come in sizes and you cannot see them, yet Hines Ward always talked about the one on his shoulder and last week he talked to Antonio Brown about having one of his own.

Ward’s developed early when he was bullied and teased because he was of mixed race, then intensified when he was “only” drafted late in the third round.

Brown claims to have no such chip on his shoulder, but then practically grits his teeth when asked why he lasted until the sixth round of the draft.

Steelers Report: A look at the Green Bay Packers

The PG's Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac take a look at the Steelers' next oppenent, the Green Bay Packers. (Video by Andrew Rush; 12/19/2013)

“I don’t tend to think about that because that just stirs up more difficult thoughts,” Brown said.

The fact is, some of the Steelers’ best receivers were not high draft picks, and three of them are converging over these final two games into the holidays. Call them Christmas Present and Christmas Past.

Brown needs just 92 yards receiving to break Yancey Thigpen’s 1997 team record of 1,398 yards. Ward’s 2002 record of 112 receptions is a bit more out of reach because Brown has 95, which is tied with two of Ward’s seasons for second-most.

Usually, Brown declines to talk about personal accomplishments, especially records, but this much was pried out of him on the topic Wednesday after he started out with an “Ah, I don’t know.”

“It’s a good deal,” Brown said when prodded. “This organization is unique, it’s been going on for 80-plus years. To set that standard for myself, to set that mark will allow me every year when I come in to find ways to be better. It’s a great opportunity.”

That then is not so much a chip on Brown’s shoulder but a carrot in front of him, because he said he always sets goals, always tries to do it one better and that he learned such things by playing with Ward for two seasons.

The two talked when Ward was in town with the NBC-TV crew for the Sunday night game against Cincinnati, and they talked about Brown possibly passing his record.

“He was encouraging to let me know how close I am,” Brown said, “let me know how many catches I need, always reminding me you have to have a goal. Having a goal in this game when you play this game will always encourage you to be better. That’s what it’s about in the NFL.

“I think deep down he probably doesn’t want me to break it, but he’s always encouraging me to break it. We had a lot of great experiences together, and I’m sure he’s excited for me.

“One thing I take from him is the way he brought it every day. He always kept a goal in mind, he was always after something. I remember his last year here, he was after 1,000 catches.”

Like the other two, Thigpen was not a high draft pick, a fourth-rounder by the San Diego Chargers, who cut him in 1992. He went on to have two seasons of more than 1,300 yards with the Steelers and signed a big free-agent contract with Tennessee in 1998.

Who says you need a tall receiver or a first-round pick at the position to be successful? Thigpen was the tallest of the trio at 6 feet 1.

Coincidentally, Thigpen’s record could fall in the same place where he had his most infamous drop. The Steelers already had wrapped up their playoff bye and had nothing to play for in their 1995 finale Christmas Eve at Green Bay. The Packers needed a win to claim the old NFC Central Division title.

Trailing, 24-19, the Steelers had the ball with 16 seconds left on Green Bay’s 6. Neil O’Donnell threw a perfect pass to a wide-open Thigpen in the end zone — and he dropped it. That gave the Packers the division title and a playoff bye and dropped the Detroit Lions into a wild-card berth.

This will be Brown’s first trip to Lambeau Field, where many legends have played. Not a bad spot to set a record for an organization which can boast a few legends of its own.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Brown said. “Ancient stadium, the Green Bay Packers. I used to love Antonio Freeman back in the days. I’m excited to go there and have an opportunity to play there.”

As for Steelers legends, coach Mike Tomlin compared Brown’s work habits to those of linebacker James Harrison.

“He’s got ridiculous work ethic,” Tomlin said of Brown. “I think everyone respects that, and it’s very evident. He’s in great shape over the course of a 12-month calendar. He’s always working his body and working his craft. He’s very comparable to James Harrison in that mentality.

“He has that type of singular focus in terms of his growth and development as a football player. I think that’s why he’s endeared himself to his teammates. I think that’s why he’s as productive as he is.”

It’s not surprising then that, when the Steelers cut Harrison early this year after he declined their salary-reduction offer, Brown quickly moved into his locker. But not for that reason. There are no lockers to his left now, so “I’m just trying to get a little more real-estate. You can see I have a lot of stuff.”

He thought Tomlin was right-on with his comparison, though.

“James Harrison is a guy who wore a weighted vest to practice, a guy who excelled in the weight room and squatted 400-500 pounds, a guy who took care of his body and had an absolutely amazing commitment to the game.”

He might even agree with Tomlin when he said of Brown’s early years with the Steelers that “I think in his mind he’s always been a number one [receiver], even when he was a number four.”

Pretty soon, Antonio Brown could become a legend in other people’s minds, too.

Garvin hit with fine

The NFL fined Steelers linebacker Terence Garvin $25,000 for a block Garvin threw on Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber Sunday that broke Huber’s jaw. The block helped spring Brown to a 67-yard touchdown return.

Garvin, an undrafted rookie from West Virginia, makes just under $24,000 weekly with his minimum salary.

Although punters wear the same uniforms as their teammates, they are afforded special protection under NFL rules.

“Huber, he’s a punter. And the key is he’s defenseless throughout the down,” Dean Blandino, who supervises NFL officials, told the NFL Network. “So, even though he’s pursuing the play, he still gets defenseless-player protection. You can’t hit him in the head or neck, and you can’t use the crown or forehead parts of the helmet to the body.”

Garvin explained his actions on the punt return.

“Actually, I fell on the play, I got up, I saw a color and I saw A.B. coming toward me. I said I have to try to help him break on this play. I was just trying to do what I could to help him break the play.”

Of punters, Garvin said, “They’re part of the team, they’re on the field, they can make plays the same way everybody else can make plays.”

Bears take practice player

Rookie offensive tackle Joe Long, who has been on the Steelers practice squad all season, signed with the Chicago Bears to their 53-man roster. The Steelers signed guard Bryant Browning to replace him.


Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.

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