PITTSBURGH -- Hines Ward left the NFL as a two-time Super Bowl winner, a Super Bowl MVP and with his name etched all over the Steelers record book.
His parting gift to the organization he played his entire career for may have been Antonio Brown – or at least the impact Ward had on Brown the two seasons they were teammates.
“He brought it every day,” Brown said of the Steelers’ all-time leading receiver. “He always had a goal in mind. He was always after something.”
Ward, it can be argued, may have done too good of a job in mentoring Brown and helping him develop.
Brown supplanted Ward in the starting lineup during the 2011 season. Now he is after the Steelers records that Ward set.
One of the few that Ward didn’t establish – receiving yards in a season – is within Brown’s grasp. The fourth-year veteran also has an outside chance of breaking Ward’s record for receptions in a season (112).
Brown needs 18 catches in the Steelers’ final two games to finish with 113. He needs just 92 receiving yards to break Yancey Thigpen’s record for receiving yards in a season (1,398).
“I tend not to think about it,” Brown said of the record he is chasing. “I’m just trying to go out and execute my assignment, and most importantly, help the team win. I feel like if I go out and do that, those things will fall into place. I don’t spend time consuming myself with what’s in front of me.”
Brown spends most of his time when he's in the Steelers’ locker room at the corner stall that used to belong to outside linebacker James Harrison. The symbolism of Brown moving into Harrison’s old digs became apparent earlier this week when Steelers coach Mike Tomlin compared the two in terms of work ethic.
"Ridiculous" was the word Tomlin used to describe it.
“I know and hear what he is doing on his own time, and it’s off the charts,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said of Brown. “I think the guy comes to work every day and works as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen work.”
Haley said that ethos isn’t the only reason why Brown emerged as a No. 1 receiver following the departure of Mike Wallace.
“The cohesiveness between him and Ben Roethlisberger, you can see it building as the year has gone on,” Haley said. “Brown is doing a lot of the little things the right way, which early on would get him in trouble a little bit at times and break that trust a little bit. When you break it down he is a terrific player with outstanding ability.”
Haley added that Brown is “breaking the trend” for No. 1 receivers. The 5-foot-10, 186-pounder is not the tall, rangy prototype. He is also not what Tomlin would call a pedigreed player as Brown lasted until the sixth round of the 2010 NFL draft.
Brown wasn’t even the Steelers’ first sixth-round pick that year as they selected him after taking running back Jonathan Dwyer.
If Brown uses that slight as fuel, he is not saying.
“Every day I get up and walk the Earth, that’s motivation for me to go out and make something of myself,” he said.