It’s rough trying to play follow the leader when that leader you have to follow is Antonio Brown. But that is the hill that every wide receiver who enters the Pittsburgh Steelers practice facility has to climb. After all, if the best in the game works as hard as he does, how can you show up and do less? Greatness is achieved, not bestowed.
It is even in the minute corners of his game that his teammates seek to emulate him these days—and I do mean the minute corners. As in the final blades of grass that separate the sideline from the playing field, and a catch from an incompletion.
Brown, the eighth-year wide receiver for the Steelers and a five-time Pro Bowler, walks that fine line as well as anybody, and that trait became especially important on Sunday night when, at the end of the game, he hauled in an improbable 23-yard reception that helped get them in field-goal range by extending his arms for a tough catch all while keeping his feet in.
It’s why they call him Tony Toe Tap, because he gets those toes down as well as anybody, even if he has to drag them across. And it’s not just some innate ability. It’s an ability the he works at, a craft that he hones during practice, and one at which he serves as an example to others.
“Over time there are significant people that set the standard for doing something and others mimic it”, head coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday during his press conference. “I know in that particular case, on our football team, Antonio’s talents along the sideline has raised the bar for all of our wideouts. They all mimic it in preparation”.
It has become so infectious that Tomlin contends such “plays like that have become commonplace on our practice field because of the standard that he sets. Not only in terms of his talents, but his work. I think young guys mimic that”.
It sure must be nice to have the luxury of having on your roster one of the players around the league that everybody thinks is so good they was to try to duplicate, if they can. By the time he retires, Brown’s highlight reel is going to be absolutely phenomenal, that much, at least, we already know.
Brown has never struck me as one who is much of a verbal leader, but he doesn’t need to when he lets his performance, both on the practice field and in games, do the communicating necessary to get his point across.
Sunday night’s catch was not just some one-off, by any means. Brown makes similar grabs with relative frequency, and he is able to do so because he has put the work in to be able to do it with some level of consistency. That sort of dedication matching the results is quite a lead to follow.