Roughly two years ago, Antonio Brown started working on a canvas of grievances.
It was a wildly abstract and unquestionably messy passion of the mercurial NFL wideout, with social media contours aimed wherever his jarring bursts of emotion took him. It was almost a form of attack art — rarely aspiring toward the deft precision of Michelangelo but always leaning into the all-angles aggression of Jackson Pollock.
Through it all, one undeniable interpretation emerged about Antonio Brown: His residue of anger was unpredictable, capable of splattering critics, allies, friends or strangers. On Twitter and Instagram and any digital spotlight in between, he recreated himself as an indignant expressionist who was both martyr and muse.
All inspired by his unrelenting belief that his failures were the product of someone else. Maybe even everyone else.
In this long and jagged path back into the NFL, that’s the distinction that matters. Brown’s pièce de résistance of retribution was ultimately defined by the one guy who never made an appearance inside it.
Antonio Brown’s long list of grievances never included Tom Brady
Surely, there are many others who were left out of that roll call. When it comes to the recollection of Brown’s social media or real-world beefing, brevity takes a hard fall.
All of which makes it more compelling that Brady never caught a stray elbow.
You need only to Google the simple phrase “Antonio Brown rips” (using the quotation marks) to get a return of thousands of entries. But repeat the search with the phrase “Antonio Brown rips Tom Brady” (once again using the quotation marks), and you get a big fat nothingburger of “No results found.”
Tom Brady repeatedly supported Antonio Brown
How exactly did Tom Brady avoid being inserted into the simplest and most-searched Antonio Brown headline?
Of course, that latter plan hit a snag when Brady chose to play in Tampa Bay for Arians, who almost immediately moved 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’s eight-game NFL suspension in July, he was still talking about potentially playing with Brady again — even if that seemed like a pipe dream given Arians’ objections.
This hope was expressed by Brown even after he had spent time working out with Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Geno Smith, who both went to bat for him inside their organization. Even with the entire quarterback room being willing to put Brown onto the radar of Seahawks management, one thing was still clear: If any player was going to be the one to open the NFL door for Brown, that player had to be a kingmaker among kingmakers.
There is none bigger in the NFL than Brady. His age and “all-in” commitment from the Buccaneers may have actually given him more power to press for such a move with Brown — even over some hand-wringing from Arians.
This was possible because Brown never even came remotely close to pointing his frustrations in the direction of Brady during his litany of low moments over the last year.
The why behind all of Brady’s support — when so many others bailed — has yet to be fleshed out. It surely will be from this point forward, as Brown becomes a short-term rental with monumental potential for failure.
It could be as simple as Brady respecting Brown as a football player and wanting to do anything to win.
It could be a complicated as friendship and all manner of things between Brady and Brown from behind a curtain of privacy we can’t see.
But there’s little question that all this came to fruition because Brown did manage to pull back on his pièce de résistance of retribution. For all the attacks and all the splattering, nothing ugly ever hit Brady in the process. While we were all focused on who was getting smeared by the indignant impressionist, the most important part of his chaotic Attack Art was what wasn’t inside it, or more to the point, who wasn’t.