LATROBE, Pa. (AP) — Antonio Brown couldn’t say no. How often does Rolls-Royce ask if you would like to ride to work in a $500,000 car?
So the All-Pro receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers relaxed in the back seat on Saturday while his brother Desmond carefully maneuvered the Phantom — wrapped in a design replete with Brown’s signature scrawled across the doors, the Steelers logo on the sideview mirrors and a pair of gold stripes running right down the middle from end to end — to the dorm at Saint Vincent College as the team reported for training camp.
It was a far cry from Brown’s first summer as a pro in 2010, when he arrived in something more befitting a then-largely unknown sixth-round pick.
“I’ve come a long way from a Jeep Wrangler,” he said with a laugh.
Brown’s choice of transportation also brings to mind the team that issues his paycheck. Rolls-Royce’s way of doing business hasn’t changed much since the company was founded in 1904. Same for the Steelers, who value continuity perhaps more than any other team in the NFL.
This summer is the franchise’s 50th at the small school about an hour southeast of Pittsburgh. The group that checked in on Saturday looks largely like the one that walked off the field following a wild-card loss to Baltimore in January.
For every significant departure — including Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and safety Troy Polamalu — there was a corresponding move that reinforced the core the Steelers believe can lead them to a seventh Super Bowl title in the near future.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger signed a lengthy contract extension in March. Defensive end Cameron Heyward inked a new deal last week. Pittsburgh locked down coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert through 2018 in the final 48 hours before the doors at Saint Vincent opened.
“That’s stability,” guard Ramon Foster said.
And also validation from the Rooney family that the team is on the upswing following a pair of 8-8 seasons in 2012 and 2013 that evolved into a promising 2014 in which the Steelers went 11-5 and won the AFC North title behind an offense ranked second in the NFL.
“That’s last year,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “I wish we could live in the past but we’ve got to go out and prove it again this year or (people) are going to talk bad about us.”
There are issues Tomlin wants addressed before the season opener in New England on Sept. 10, including restoring some of the bite to a pass rush that has been fickle at best in recent years. One thing he won’t have to worry about is Brown’s commitment.
The 27-year-old showed up on time and happy despite concerns he would stay home and ask for a hefty raise after leading the NFL in receptions and yards receiving last season.
Rather than engage management in a staring contest, Brown — who has three years remaining on the $42.5 million deal he agreed to in 2012 — made an entrance that could hardly be called understated. While his contract looks like one of the league’s best bargains as he reaches his prime, Brown isn’t in the mood to mar what he hopes will be a special year.
“Holdouts never go well,” he said. “If you study history of guys who hold out, they always end bad. I’m in a blessed position. I make a lot of money. I pull up to camp in Rolls Royces.”
Brown will get to enjoy his swagged-out wheels a little longer than usual. The Steelers will be at Saint Vincent for an extra week this year after being chosen to play in the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 9 against Minnesota. Pittsburgh will use the extra time to bring younger players such as rookie defensive backs Senquez Golson, Doran Grant and Jarrod Holliman up to speed.
For the better part of five decades, the Steelers rode their defense to prominence and championships. The balance of power has swung decisively to the other side of the ball. Look no further than the swarm around Brown as he checked in, while veteran linebacker James Harrison walked by almost unnoticed.
Brown welcomes the added attention and the burden that comes along with it.
“We have to take it further,” he said. “The pressure is on for us to be better.”
NOTES: Pouncey (sprained foot), Golson (shoulder), OT Mike Adams (back), QB Bruce Gradkowski (shoulder) and LB Shawn Lemon (Achilles) will start camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list. … RB Le’Veon Bell says he has “no idea” when or if the appeal on his three-game suspension following his arrest on DUI and drug charges last August will be heard. … Heyward said he and his wife, Allie, are expecting their first child in November.