I suppose the only way the Antonio Brown Body Issue could wrap up was with him turning into a penitent and eager company man. He fought the law, the law yawned, took its feet off the desk, mixed itself a drink and hammered him flat, and he went “all-in” on being an Oakland Raider by playing Jon Gruden’s best friend on Hard Knocks.
And Gruden, it must be said, went just as all-in at playing his generous and kind benefactor in return.
Of course, it also played on Hard Knocks and for Hard Knocks, which means it was an elaborately staged commercial to fool the rubes and perhaps nothing more. The cameras were there to help move the message along, allow Brown to save a measure of face and Gruden to get his best offensive player into full-time activity.
This won’t be the last time the two will cross shields, of course, but as it was the end of the audience’s interest in Brown’s helmet, it ended with a nationally televised whimper … almost as though the entire thing was a long and involved contrivance designed to get him and us through the draggy days of training camp.
You almost wish that were the case. Spin the story of rage and dissatisfaction with a semi-uncontrollable media, and then do the make-up scene on very controllable media—after all, Gruden told Brown he handled the dramas “seamlessly,” whatever the hell that means, and even said the team knew about his dissatisfaction with the helmet since the start of OTAs. Even if none of this was contrived to gin up interest in an otherwise featureless team, it sure read that way after Tuesday.
But even if you thought this was all real-deal drama, you are also left with the real possibility that Brown-as-rebel has sort of jumped the shark already, and is now left with only two options: play football at a high level without further complaint, or grouse to fewer and deafer ears about a new injustice that might very well put him in another non-Vegas city next year.
Put another way, Brown made himself a caricature (and we were fascinated by every pen stroke, at least for awhile), and there aren’t many ways to come back from that. Gruden already was something of a caricature, his best and most genuine years still when he was tilting at the windmill of Al Davis 20 years ago. Brown may have new stuff left to catch our attentions but that’s not the way to bet, and Gruden is already showing wear on his entertainment tires (is Frank Caliendo’s impersonation of him still a thing for us after two decades, or just for Gruden?).
The whole thing just seemed old and tired in the end, including us for geeking on it as much as we did. And now that everyone is pretending that they’re satisfied, we can all go on about our days knowing that as we should have expected, nothing happened, everyone got a little more cynicized, and nobody actually won anything. A little time just got killed is all, and the beast got fed something that looked like steak but tasted like porridge—a metaphor like the player, the coach, the team, and the show. I guess Hard Knocks really did show us inside the game after all.
Ray Ratto would feel cheated by all this, but he always feels that way.