Wide receiver Brown is named Steelers MVP
In the car on their way to training camp this summer, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders set their season goals.
Sanders remembers the conversation vividly.
"(Brown) said he wanted a 1,000-yard season. He said he wanted to go to the Pro Bowl," Sanders said.
Never did Brown mention team MVP. Not even the 2010 sixth-round draft choice from Central Michigan, who entered the season with 16 career catches, could have imagined that.
But in a somewhat surprising outcome Thursday, Brown was named Steelers MVP in a vote by his teammates, making him the youngest player to win the award since Rod Woodson more than 20 years ago.
"He actually exceeded his goals, and that's pretty cool," Sanders said. "Just with his all-around performance, there is no doubt it was Antonio who deserved it. He is a star rising in front of our eyes."
Brown, who recently was named to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner, broke the Steelers' single-season record for all-purpose yards (2,048) while going over 1,000 yards receiving despite entering the season as the fourth receiver on the depth chart.
Brown made only three starts this year.
"It is a tremendous honor," Brown said. "It is something special. I am just taking it all in. It is something that I want to build off and grow from."
In a veteran locker room, Brown went from unknown special teams guy to MVP over the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Wallace, Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor.
"It's an awesome honor for him, especially with the high-caliber guys we have in this locker room," Roethlisberger said.
It wasn't easy for Brown to earn respect from a team with 17 players 30 or older. Sanders believes he knows how Brown did it.
"Since Day 1 of training camp, he has come in and did an outstanding job working his tail off," Sanders said.
It actually started before that for Brown.
He worked out tirelessly in Miami during the offseason with Chad Ochocinco, Plaxico Burress and Terrelle Pryor, among others, and came into camp in such good shape that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians couldn't help but notice.
"What a great testimony to hard work," Arians said. "I don't know of anybody who worked harder. He came back in fabulous shape, had a great camp and just led into a really good season for him."
Even so, Brown was still mired behind Wallace, Sanders and Hines Ward on the depth chart. Brown first got his chance when Sanders re-injured his foot in training camp.
"He has always had the talent and work ethic. It is just a matter of opportunity," Wallace said.
Brown's biggest opportunity came when he moved into the starting lineup after an injury to Ward midway through the season. Since then, Brown has caught 29 passes for 583 yards.
His best game came against Cleveland earlier this month when he caught five passes for 151 yards and a game-clinching 79-yard touchdown.
"You always saw potential," Ward said. "It was just a matter of him gaining confidence in himself and learning the offense."