By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Even though there was a precedent set for a second-year player to be the Pittsburgh Steelers MVP, as voted by his teammates, many media members were surprised when wideout Antonio Brown was honored Thursday.
Like the young players before him — rookie Franco Harris in 1972, and second-year pros Joe Greene in 1970, Gary Anderson in 1983, Louis Lipps in 1985 and Rod Woodson in 1988 — Brown received the majority of the votes by his teammates to be the Steelers most valuable player. He’s just the sixth wideout to receive the honor in the past 40 years.
“That’s a great testimony for hard work,” Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. “I don’t know anybody that works harder. He came back in fabulous shape, had a great camp, and that led him to a really good season. So, that’s an awesome record that he got (all-purpose yards).
“And I’m very happy for him and proud of him. I think he’s earned the respect of all his teammates. We’ve had a lot of guys who could have won that award, but for A.B. it’s a great honor for him to win it. He really deserved it.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wideout Mike Wallace, free safety Ryan Clark and cornerback Ike Taylor were other “worthy” candidates. Roethlisberger has completed nearly 64 percent of his passes for 3,856 yards in 14 games with 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, 38 sacks and a rating at 91.5. Wallace has a team-best 71 catches for 1,182 yards and eight touchdowns, while Clark leads the defense with 96 total tackles and Taylor is the top cornerback on the NFL’s No. 1-ranked unit.
Brown set the Steelers’ single-season mark for all-purpose yardage. He has 63 catches for 1,018 yards and two touchdowns. Brown also has returned 30 punts for 325 yards (10.8 average) and one score to go with 24 kickoff returns for 664 yards (27.7) and no TDs. James Farrior and Ryan Clark said they voted for Taylor, and when such notable veterans as those guys do something many usually follow. Not in this instance.
“I voted for Antonio,” wideout Hines Ward said. “He didn’t win this award for just what he did and the splash plays that he made as a wide receiver this season. He made a lot of big plays for us on special teams. So, overall, I couldn’t be more happy for him. He just had a great year, but Mike had a great year. Ben had a great year, and on defense Ryan Clark had a great year.
“So, this award was deserving of a lot of people, but this means a lot because it’s voted on by the players. And when we tallied up the votes, the winner came out to be Antonio Brown. And it’s well-deserved, so he should be very proud. … For A.B., considering where he came from and how he got here and how his career has taken off, I know it’s an honor for him to be the Steelers’ MVP.”
Farrior countered with these comments on Taylor.
“I think he’s done a phenomenal job, and when you look at his body of work through the 15 games we’ve played so far he’s been asked to do a lot of covering one-on-one with probably the best receiver a team has,” Farrior said.
“He goes against that guy probably every snap, and he’s been doing a great job keeping those guys out of the end zone and keeps them from catching a lot of passes against him that would hurt (the Steelers).”
Brown was as humble as ever while accepting the award, and he explained how he has persevered in just his second NFL season.
“It really doesn’t happen to a lot of younger guys, being that we have an older team, that just shows me what my teammates think about me,” Brown said. “I don’t know how I did it, because I didn’t vote for myself. I voted for a couple other guys, but we have a unique team, and it’s very special to be part of it.
“So, I’m thankful that a young guy like myself can get the votes for MVP by my teammates. (And) I’m just taking it all in. I just want to build on this and grow from it. I believe that you’ve got to stay the course all throughout the process and not be too high or too low. You can’t ever give up, and you have to take advantage of every opportunity when they come your way.”
Steelers coach Tomlin told the team that Brown won the award after the walk-through session Thursday morning.