Every day, whenever the Steelers practice, he is last. The last man off the field. Dead last. Was last off the field on the first day of training camp. Was last off the field yesterday. Most likely will be last off the field tomorrow. And maybe that's why his teammates decided to make him first.
Antonio Brown is the Steelers' 2011 Most Valuable Player, an honor bestowed upon him by his teammates. If it's true that elections reveal more about the voters than the winner, it's very possible Brown was first after the ballots were counted because his teammates appreciate his every-day effort as well as the production resulting from it.
"That's what it's about. It's about putting in the work," said Brown. "If you work hard, you give yourself a chance to be put in this position. In the offseason I took the initiative to go back down and get myself in some great condition, and I came back with my mind and my body prepared. It definitely paid off for me."
After coming to the team in 2010 as a sixth-round draft pick from Central Michigan, Brown earned a spot on the 53-man roster and made an impact in just the second game of his rookie season. With the Steelers at 1-0 and facing the Titans in Tennessee, where they were 1-8 all-time, Brown took a reverse on the opening kickoff and ran 89 yards for the team's only touchdown in a 19-11 win Coach Mike Tomlin later would see as a significant moment along the way to the team winning the AFC Championship.
Brown finished his rookie season with 16 catches for 167 yards, he had that 89-yard kickoff return among the 397 he accumulated in that category, and he also led the team with 110 punt return yards. What really indicated Brown could be a special player was his performance in the playoffs. In the AFC Divisional Round against the Ravens, Brown converted a fourth quarter third down with a 58-yard catch, and then in the AFC Championship Game against the Jets, his 14-yard catch converted the third down that clinched the outcome.
Then for his second NFL training camp, Brown arrived in top condition, never missed a practice and stayed late to do additional work every day. At Saint Vincent College he also revealed an individual goal, which at the time seemed out of reach for a player of his station – he wanted to be a 1,000-yard receiver.
"I did a little research on it. If you average about 62 yards receiving a game, at the end of a season you should have 1,000," said Brown. "I just set that goal for myself knowing I was going to have a chance, an opportunity to be playing. I just kept that as my bulls-eye."
He hit the target, and he sees it as just the start.
"It's definitely only the beginning," said Brown. "I haven't started for a full season yet, I haven't done a lot of things. I just want the team to build on this and go on."
Brown is the fifth player in franchise history to be voted Steelers MVP in his second NFL season, and he joins Joe Greene, Gary Anderson, Louis Lipps and Rod Woodson in that category. Franco Harris is the only player to win the award as a rookie.
"It really doesn't happen to a lot of younger guys, being that we have an older team," said Brown. "But it just showed me what my teammates think of me, and for them to put me in this position, I'm just thankful.
"I didn't even vote for myself. I actually voted for a couple of other guys, but this is something special. We have a great, unique team, and it's something special to be a part of that. I'm just thankful that a young guy like myself is voted this award by my teammates. That just shows me the tremendous amount of respect I get from those guys in the locker room."
The Steelers have been voting for this award since Chuck Noll was hired in 1969, and one of the recurring themes at every news conference announcing the latest winner is appreciation for being recognized by one's teammates. Brown was no exception.
"I don't know about surprised, but it's just amazing, tremendous to know what my teammates think about me, to know they chose me, and it's just something special," said Brown. "I'm just thankful. It's not about me, it's about the Steelers. We're a team. I'm pretty sure we could have had a lot of different guys up here, but I'm just thankful my teammates picked me. It's an honor to be selected."
Brown has come on strong during the second half of this season, with all three of his career starts coming in that time frame. In his last seven games, Brown has 29 receptions for 587 yards, and his 20.2 average is No. 2 in the NFL during that span. Brown also led the team in either receptions or receiving yards for a seven-game stretch that started in October and ended in mid-December.
"Coach knows what kind of guy I am. My teammates know," said Brown. "They wouldn't have voted me this award if they thought it was going to do something to me. I have a tremendous respect for those guys downstairs (in the locker room).
"It's about putting in the work. If you work hard, you give yourself a chance to be put in this position. In the offseason I took the initiative to go back down and get myself in some great condition, and I came back with my mind and my body prepared. It definitely paid off for me."