Gorman: Seeing a different side of Steelers All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown
Garrett Fairman could hardly believe Antonio Brown was at Thomas Jefferson's football practice, let alone calling plays for the Jaguars.
“I was like, ‘Is this real? Is this actually Antonio Brown?' ” Fairman said. “That was crazy.”
When Brown told the TJ senior to “take this kid to the barber shop,” Fairman knew exactly what he meant.
“I was like, ‘You want me to fade him up?' ” Fairman said. “I can't wait to see this commercial come out.”
Brown paid a surprise visit to TJ's practice on Tuesday as a paid endorser through the NFL's Play Football and Campbell's Chunky Soup's “We'll Fill In, While You Fill Up” advertising campaign.
Brown left a lasting impression, one that showed a different side of the Steelers' All-Pro wide receiver.
The ad, which will air on various social media platforms, has Brown stop by to give TJ coach Bill Cherpak a break for a bowl of Chunky's Max soup while the NFL superstar takes over the play-calling in practice.
“They said I was a natural eater,” joked Cherpak, a former Pitt offensive lineman who is the Steelers' nominee for the NFL's Don Shula High School Coach of the Year award. “I don't know what they meant.”
While Brown surprised no one by using his Snapchat or calling pass plays, his message to the team had a different tone. He took time to talk to the Jaguars about doing well in school and working hard in practice.
“That was the biggest thing: The kids see him on TV, and what they know of him is dancing and scoring touchdowns,” Cherpak said. “What he talked to them about was off-the-field stuff — about being a good person — so for them to get that message and see the person in him has a lasting effect.”
For all of the criticism directed toward Brown, from being fined for his touchdown twerk to the controversy caused his Facebook livestream video in the AFC playoffs, this is the side of the Steelers superstar not everyone experiences.
It was evident at the Steelers' Family Fest practice at Heinz Field last month, when Brown signed autographs for fans long after every other player headed to the locker room.
“You don't see NFL players like that in real life,” Fairman said. “Mostly, you think they don't want to have anything to do with kids, that they just mind their own business.
“Antonio Brown, it was incredible what he did for us. He told us off-the-field stuff, about school and determination and work, that it's not about what you do in games but what you do to prepare for games.”
Cherpak said Steelers inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky, a former teammate, told him there was another side to Brown's public persona.
“When he and I were talking one-on-one, he said, ‘Thanks for what you do for kids,' ” Cherpak said of Brown. “You could tell it was sincere. It wasn't just an appearance for him.”
For as much as Brown loves to mug for the camera and shine in the spotlight, the former sixth-round pick doesn't forget his humble beginnings.
“Absolutely,” Brown said. “You can never forget what you came from, and just giving kids the motivation. You ain't got to be super big or a stereotypical NFL player. You can come out here, and if you work at it, you can make a difference.”
Although the TJ visit was a paid appearance, it wasn't the first time Brown reached out to a WPIAL football program. He took Clairton's players to see the movie, “Concussion,” in 2015.
“He wears it on his chest,” Fairman said. “He's so humble. I wouldn't expect that from an NFL player. It's 100-percent different.”
Brown said he wants to inspire kids, not only by showing up — and he has a reputation for being notoriously late — but also giving them a glimpse of what he's like in person.
“They really didn't know how to react,” Cherpak said. “It gave a boost to practice. We had some emotion. The kids were having fun. And we need that right now, during the season.”
Brown seemed to enjoy every moment, from riding shotgun in the Chunky Soup truck to serving soup to the players.
“That's what it's all about, man, letting them know who you are and what means most to you,” Brown said. “That's giving time and making people feel how they make you feel. That never grows old, no doubt.”
Like going to the barber shop.