TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Antonio Brown says he’s grateful to be back in the NFL, let alone preparing to play in the Super Bowl.
The talented but sometimes volatile receiver joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers midway through this season after serving an eight-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, a ban that left few options to resume a prolific career derailed by his off-the-field issues.
And while Brown said Wednesday that he didn’t consider reuniting with Tom Brady as a final chance to prove he’s learned from his mistakes, the 32-year-old receiver stressed he’s “extremely” appreciative of the opportunity to help the record-breaking quarterback pursue his seventh championship ring.
“I just think it was my only chance to be able to prove — not only to the doubters, but myself — I’m still a high-end football player, still love the game,” Brown said. “I never gave up or gave in. I stayed consistent and persistent to my goals and vision.”
The NFC champions were 6-2 and really didn’t have a pressing need for another offensive playmaker when general manager Jason Licht signed Brown as what coach Bruce Arians described at the time as an “insurance policy” for a deep group of receivers that already included Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson.
Arians initially opposed the idea of adding Brown, saying during the offseason that the receiver wasn’t a good fit for the Bucs.
But Brady, who played one game with Brown during the receiver’s brief stay with the New England Patriots in September 2019, welcomed a reunion and even allowed Brown to live with him in a Tampa mansion the six-time Super Bowl champion is renting from baseball Hall of Famer Derek Jeter.
Brown has 886 regular-season receptions for 11,746 yards and 79 touchdowns. He’s the most accomplished wide receiver Brady has had to throw to since the Patriots had Hall of Famer Randy Moss, who also had a reputation of being difficult to play with, more than a decade ago.
“I think my relationship with every player, whether it was Randy and A.B., it just starts with I don’t have any predisposed notion of how things will go or how they should go. I just try to get to know everybody,” Brady said.
“I try to, in my own way, be a positive influence in their life, (and) they’re a positive influence in my life. Randy and I connected right away. Antonio and I connected right away,” Brady added. “He has a great love for the game, is a real perfectionist about how he plays, how he takes care of himself. He has incredible football IQ and just a great skillset as a player.”
Brown’s willingness to accept a smaller role in game plans than he became accustomed to in nine seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers helped his transition. He finished with 45 receptions for 483 yards and four TDs in eight games, then was off to a nice start in the playoffs before a knee injury forced him to sit out Tampa Bay’s win over Green Bay in the NFC championship game.
The 11th-year pro’s status for Sunday’s Super Bowl is uncertain.
“I’m just extremely grateful to be here in this position to help my teammates preparing to do what we set out to do,” said Brown, who offered few details about any changes he’s made in his life since his career went off the tracks.
Brown had a stretch of six consecutive seasons with at least 100 catches and 1,000 yards receiving come to a screeching halt when he forced his way out of Pittsburgh and then almost immediately fell out of favor in Oakland, which acquired him in a trade in March 2019.
A tumultuous short stay with the Raiders ended with Brown demanding and being granted his release during training camp.
By that time, the Raiders had voided guaranteed money in a restructured contract after an eventful summer with the team that began with Brown, among other things, missing a number of practices because of frost-bitten feet attributed to not wearing proper footwear during a cryotherapy session.
The suspension that kept him out of the league for the first eight weeks of this season stemmed from an incident that drew police to the receiver’s home in South Florida last year. Brown’s also facing civil lawsuit filed by a woman who accused him of sexual assault.
“I’ve been through some things, but that’s life. We’ve all been through some things that allowed us to grow for the betterment of ourselves. I’ve just grateful for the journey,” Brown said.
“I stayed disciplined, stayed dedicated to my vision and goals,” he added of his comeback. “It’s all about controlling emotions … learning how to control my attitude and not letting my emotions get the best of me even if I feel someone was wrong for doing what they did. Just being forgiving and staying positive.”
Brady feels Brown has progressed.
“I think he made incredible strides over the past 12 months to get from where he was at to where he’s at now,” the quarterback said.
“It’s one thing to go out and throw passes — that’s fun, and I love that, and I love winning — but we all have lives. Everybody is dealing with life. It’s not always the easiest thing for all of us,” Brady added. “You just try to provide some words of support or advice, again care for people. That’s a really important thing we need to do, that all of us need to do. We need to care more for people and allow people to blossom and be the best they can be.”