COLUMN: Antonio Brown needs to revisit virtues learned at Central Michigan

Former Central Michigan star Antonio Brown spends time at CMU's Spring Game on March 21 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

Antonio Brown recalls those long summer days at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant.

He'd lace up his cleats, strap on his helmet, get a group of teammates together and put in work when nobody was watching.

No fans, no big-money contract and, most importantly, no drama.

Early mornings turned into late nights. Brown never quit. He was focused on personal and team goals.

The former Central Michigan wide receiver spent 2007-09 as a Chippewa, living each day in an attempt to prove his doubters wrong.

"I go to the place in my mind and remember where it all started," Brown said to Central Michigan Life. "The hunger, just the moments that built me for this position right here, all started here."

It's been 10 years since Brown has departed from the Chippewas, and nothing is the same. He has changed.

Arguably the best wide receiver in football, Brown found himself jobless Saturday, and he was unemployed for five hours. He had only himself to blame.

Since then, he's joined the New England Patriots.

With everything that's gone on lately, it might be best for him to rediscover the virtues he learned at Central Michigan.

Everything was fine for the majority of his NFL career, but what has happened since 2018 – the second to last time he returned to Mount Pleasant?

In the 2017 season, Brown was fairly quiet. He was battling injuries to his toe and left calf, but there was nothing out of the ordinary with Pittsburgh Steelers.

Less than four months before the 2018 season, I had the chance to speak with Brown on April 21 during CMU's annual spring game.

That year, everything changed.

Brown had a dispute with Ben Roethlisberger during a Wednesday walkthrough in December 2018, when the receiver threw a football at his quarterback. He was benched for Week 17 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

When I met with him just months earlier, Brown was adamant about how his time at Central shaped him as a teammate.

“The camaraderie," Brown said of his favorite memory of being with the Chippewas. "Just being here, being zoned out from everything. Focusing and working hard with my teammates."

The nine months that followed Brown getting benched on Dec. 30 were the complete opposite of being "zoned out" from the public eye like he once was in college. He put himself in the spotlight with each turn, making a conscious choice to do so. More often than not, that spotlight was negative.

In Pittsburgh, during that 2018 season, there was no camaraderie left that Brown was willing to maintain with his teammates, exemplified by his relationship with Roethlisberger, coach Mike Tomlin and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, among others.

The final page in Brown's lengthy chapter with the Steelers came to a conclusion. It wasn't a happy ending.

Junior wide receiver Antonio Brown finished with 13 catches for 178 yards Wednesday in CMU's 44-41 double-overtime win against Troy in the GMAC Bowl. Brown also had a kickoff return for a touchdown. (Matthew Stephens/Senior Photographer)

Unlike his time at Central Michigan, Brown was unable to block out the distractions to help his team succeed.

"There’s not a lot to do out here, so it helped me stay focused," Brown said of Mount Pleasant. "Everyone was working hard, and we built bonds from the work we put in together.”

Life was different for Brown once he became a formidable professional, so much so that he cut ties with the team that took a chance on him in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Brown went to social media in February to thank the fans of Pittsburgh and announce he would be "moving on" from the team. The organization began looking to trade Brown shortly after.

That was exactly the problem.

Brown went from being a nobody to a super somebody over the course of 10 years, and it caught up to him.

"Nobody believed when I was here, nobody thought I’d be where I’m at," Brown said. "This is what it’s all about – doing things people wouldn’t expect you to do, coming from places that they’d never expect you to come from.

"You write your own story.” 

Brown is entirely correct. Everyone has the option to write their own story. His journey continued from the Steelers to the Oakland Raiders, when the teams agreed to a trade on March 9. He was dealt for a third and fifth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Dealing Brown to the Raiders meant a contract reconstruction. He still had three years and nearly $39 million left on the massive contract he signed with the Steelers in 2017.

The new deal was set to pay him $50.13 million over three seasons. Of that, $30.13 million was guaranteed money.

In Brown's introductory press conference with the Raiders, he said his goal was to elevate everyone around him.

"I'm here to just be a surge of energy, of positivity, and good force," Brown added that day. "A great teammate and to bring out the best of everyone around me 'cause we all know it's not just about me."

But didn't he make it all about him? Yeah, he did.

The rest of Brown's time in Oakland was a disaster, and he didn't end up making it to Monday night's season opener.

He was released from the team, and he's the only one to blame.

Brown is now a member of the Patriots, and it's going to be Bill Belichick's way or the highway.

That's something you can count on.

What happened in Oakland?

The downfall with the Raiders felt like it was over before it began. He showed up for training camp July 25 in Napa, California, with frostbite on the bottom of both his feet due to a cryotherapy mishap. He was activated from the non-football injury list July 28 and participated in the first half of practice two days later before leaving the field and facility before others on the team.

Brown didn't return for two weeks as he sought out treatment for his feet and protested the NFL for banning his Schutt Air Advantage helmet for safety reasons. Brown had worn the helmet for 10 years. He threatened to retire from football.

With the Chippewas, Brown rarely missed practices. There's another change in his behavior.

“This is where it all started," Brown told me. "A lot of work went on in this stadium."

The first grievance to wear his preferred helmet was lost by Brown, who left training camp again and was fined $40,000 by general manager Mike Mayock. Brown lost his second grievance to wear his old helmet Aug. 25. He eventually made the switch to the Xenith Shadow helmet.

Then, on Sept. 4, Brown's downfall began moving at a rapid speed. He shared a letter on Instagram that was sent to him by Mayock regarding fines from Aug. 18 ($40,000) and Aug. 22 ($13,950).

Brown got into a confrontation with Mayock at practice that day, just moments after throwing a football into a fence. According to ESPN, the receiver called his general manager a "cracker" and was held back by linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

On Sept. 5, the Raiders planned to suspend him. Just a day later, he made an "emotional apology," and Raiders coach Jon Gruden planned to move past the situation, along with having Brown play Monday night against the Broncos.

Well, that clearly won't happen. Brown was fined over $215,000 for his conduct, and the Raiders voided the approximately $30 million that was originally guaranteed in his deal.

Brown asked for his release on Instagram, and Oakland granted his wish at noon on Saturday. He celebrated in response.

Five hours later, he became a Patriot.

Who knows where it will go from here? Maybe, just maybe, he'll find his way back.