Antonio Brown refused to burn bridge with Tom Brady, and it got him back into the NFL
About two years ago, Antonio Brown began working on a canvas full of complaints.
It was a wildly abstract and no doubt chaotic passion of the mercurial NFL wideout, with social media outlines targeting where his harrowing emotional outbursts took him. It was almost a form of the art of attack - it seldom sought the skillful precision of Michelangelo, but always leaned on the all-angle aggression of Jackson Pollock.
This resulted in an undeniable interpretation by Antonio Brown: his anger was unpredictable and capable of splashing critics, allies, friends or strangers. On Twitter and Instagram, and in every digital spotlight in between, he has recreated himself as an outraged expressionist who was both a martyr and a muse.
All inspired by his relentless belief that his mistakes were someone else's product. Maybe even everyone else.
But never Tom Brady.
On this long and jagged road back to the NFL, that's the distinction that matters. Brown's piece of resistance to retribution was ultimately defined by the one man who never appeared in it.
Tom Brady, right, has long been in Antonio Brown's corner, even after the Mercury wideout burned almost every other bridge in and around the league. (AP Photo / Brynn Anderson)
Antonio Brown's long list of complaints never included Tom Brady
That guy was Brady, who is clearly the most responsible person for making Brown a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today. That reality materialized just seven months after Brady's own head coach Bruce Arians said that signing Brown because Brown "doesn't fit in our locker room" would never happen.
What is remarkable about Arians? He was one of Brown's former coaches at the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of Brown's prominent stops when the broad receiver burned NFL bridges.
Arians was in the middle of this tour of retaliation. And not by chance either. He stood right on Brown's card, called the recipient a diva, and drew a response in which Brown noted the trainer's own diva predilection for wearing dark sunglasses and kangol hats.
Funny times. It was also a moment that - until now - got lost in Brown's abyss of the absurd. It's a huge and deep canyon filled with so many names that you will probably forget half of it.
If you have a truly encyclopedic memory, you may remember Brown using social media swipes (and a few literal swipes) on ...
Ben Roethlisberger, Emmanuel Sanders, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Nick Foles, Julio Jones, Baker Mayfield, Derek Carr, Golden Tate, Richie Incognito, Eric Weddle, the Steelers, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Mike Mayock, Jon Gruden, the NFL, the team owners, the players union, the media, Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith, Drew Rosenhaus, Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, ESPN, the NFL network, Sports Illustrated, his father Eddie (on Christmas Eve), his mother Children (on live streaming video), several women accusing him of sexual assault, a former condominium owner and the Hollywood, Florida Police Department.
Surely there are many others who have been excluded from this appeal. When it comes to remembering Brown's social media or real beef, brevity is tough.
All of this makes it more compelling that Brady never caught a stray elbow.
All you have to do is google the simple phrase "Antonio Brown rips" (using the quotes) to get a return of thousands of entries. But do the search again with the phrase "Antonio Brown tears up Tom Brady" (again using the quotation marks) and you get a big, fat geek with "No Results Found".
Tom Brady repeatedly supported Antonio Brown
How exactly did Tom Brady avoid being included in Antonio Brown's simplest and most wanted headline?
Brady was the most famous and powerful person in the NFL, who cemented himself in Brown's corner during the chaos of the past 14 months. That period of support included Brown's signing in New England, the subsequent (and ongoing) sexual assault case in a Florida civil court, his release by the Patriots, and then months of spiraling and troubling incidents as the NFL's part of Browns ordered psychological counseling and treatment Conditions for a possible reinstatement.
With all of this, Brady never distanced himself from Brown.
Neither on social media - where Brady repeatedly interacted and supported Brown - nor in personal life, where Brady visited Brown in Miami in January and then went on to talk about reuniting if Brady left the Patriots.
Of course, this latter plan hit a snag when Brady decided to play for Arians in Tampa Bay, who moved almost immediately to suck all the oxygen out of that possibility.
But that was then ... this is now ... and Brady is Brady.
Even after Arians put the Kibosh on Brown, a league source told Yahoo Sports that shortly after Brown was suspended from the NFL for eight games in July, he was still talking about possibly playing with Brady again - albeit given the objections from Arians seemed like a pipe dream.
Brown expressed this hope after working for some time with quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Geno Smith of the Seattle Seahawks, both of whom flew for him within their organization. Even if the entire quarterback room was ready to put Brown on the Seahawks management radar, one thing was clear: if any player wanted to open the NFL door for Brown, that player had to be a kingmaker among the kingmakers.
There's no one bigger in the NFL than Brady. His age and “all-in” streak of buccaneers may have given him more power to push for such a move with Brown - even if Arians were manual laborers.
This was possible because Brown didn't even come close to showing his frustrations towards Brady during his litany of low moments last year.
The wideout couldn't even say that much about Belichick, whom Brown had largely spared his rhetoric - until a photo popped up on the wideout's Instagram of Brown and Belichick hugging. It contained the hashtag #YouChangedOnMe, which some members of the Patriots organization absolutely took as a shot at Belichick.
It was Brady who was completely unscathed in the fallout. He stayed through the ugliness of the sexual assault allegations that sparked Brown's eight-game suspension. He was a friend who through Brown waged a war on the Patriots with an NFLPA complaint about money. And he even stood by Brown after the recipient monumentally nudged Kraft - whom Brady also counts as a close friend - about Kraft's now-dismissed prostitution case for wrongdoing.
The why behind all of Brady's support - when so many others went on bail - has yet to be fleshed out. This will certainly be the case from this point on as Brown becomes a short term rental with enormous potential for failure.
It could be so simple that Brady respects Brown as a football player and wants to do anything to win.
It could be an intricate friendship and anything between Brady and Brown behind a curtain of privacy that we can't see.
However, there is no question that all of this came about as Brown managed to withdraw his piece of Resistance To Retribution. Despite all the attacks and splashes, Brady never met anything ugly. While we were all focused on who was being smeared by the indignant Impressionist, the most important part of his chaotic art of attack was what wasn't in, or more to the point, who wasn't.
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