Photo: Eric Risberg (AP)

You hate when a great story about massive foot blisters, home-painted football helmets, ultimatums, and coaches supporting their players through clenched teeth and retirement threats takes an obvious plot twist, but here we are: Antonio Brown v. Roger Goodell:

And we’re on. At least we hope we are. Antonio Brown is too good a player to flame out like this, and too cartoony a character to be flamed out like this. It’s August 12. The games anyone cares about are still three weeks away. This saga cannot end now. And yet...

[Update, 4:50 p.m.: The arbitrator has ruled against Brown, who said in an Instagram post that he’s “working on getting back to full health and looking forward to rejoining my teammates on the field.”]

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The league got interested in record time and to the surprise of no organisms told Brown he hasn’t got a head to stand on here. The heavy money is that Brown will capitulate, wear the helmet he hates and complain that he can’t see all year long: “I would have caught 18 of the 13 balls thrown my way if I could have seen the ball through this iron mask they make me wear,” only with more hilariously lyrical profanity.

It’s the only way he saves face here without quitting. If Brown leaves the game over this cranial principle, we are all the poorer, none more than Jon Gruden. If he acquiesces quietly and without further complaint, we’ve been had (again) and shame on us—in that case, Brown becomes less a rebel and more an employee, and that’s not what we bought in for, brandwise. In a sport of violent caricatures, the receding middle finger always plays poorly; toward that end, Kenny Stills sassing Stephen Ross over presidential fundraisers and forcing the Dolphins owner to issue wishy-washy denial-ettes is way more badass than Brown meekly taking orders from the home office.

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But in fairness, maybe Brown has some clapback in him. Maybe he can act out for a couple more weeks before arriving in camp, thereby accomplishing an act of rebellion that helped Khalil Mack get traded to a contender a year ago. Maybe we are underestimating his comfort-before-safety stance; maybe it’s a matter of principle by a principled man. Maybe the new helmets aren’t any better than the old ones, and this is just some weird contractual thing with the league and the helmet companies.

We only mentioned that last one because taking the NFL at face value on anything is the same as habitually betting eight-point road underdogs, and to cover even the minimal possibility that Brown and the league might have been in P.R.–driven cahoots from the start. Anything is possible, at least for awhile.

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But awhile ended quickly this morning. The NFL statement fast-forwarded our amusement threshold toward the last chapter pretty quickly, which leads this little tinfoil hat owner to assume that Goodell et. al. were quite unamused by Brown’s declaration of brainbox independence. A league that can wait months to adjudicate lunch orders found a ruling it liked between its second and third vodka tonics; in fact, we suspect that Goodell barely got involved at all. Some well-positioned folks believe the only two things Goodell is working for is one more TV deal and one more CBA, and then he plans to put his feet up on a couple of network executives and ease into oligarch-level retirement. Antonio Brown would have been beneath his notice.

Unless, of course, he took a personal interest, which given Stills’s stance on Ross’s stance toward Trump’s stances would suggest Goodell’s personal interest resides only in issues in which the league can’t lose.

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So we await whatever Brown plans to do or say through the power of the tweets of the connected (look for “Sources Say” on the label to your assurance of quality). Maybe he uses Hard Knocks to deliver his manifesto. Maybe he hires a plane with a streamer that reads, “FREE MY SKULL!” Maybe he just paints a profanity on his chest.

But we did devote a fair amount of the weekend to Brown, and to have it end so quickly—well, who likes feeling like a dupe? I mean, he’s got to fight the man awhile, doesn’t he? This can’t end now, can it? He did give us plenty of preseason entertainment so far.

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Brown’s already done his feet and head, but that leaves a lot of body. He’s been a spectacle by air and land, and while the Napa River isn’t big enough to create a water-based catastrophe, a quick trip up Highway 29 gets him to Clear Lake for an aquatic mishap he can pin on Art Rooney. There are places and things Antonio Brown can do to still be the Antonio Brown upon which we have lavished our time and attention. Maybe an alias, or a whole new identity. Maybe he turns on us all and says none of this ever happened because nobody ever saw him say anything about his helmet. Maybe a dragon burns Napa to the ground.

That last one would certainly impact the Raiders, who knew Antonio Brown could be Antonio Brown but couldn’t really have figured on this level of Antonio Brown. They surely feared he and Derek Carr wouldn’t quite mesh, or he and Gruden would clash swords and shields, or maybe even he and Mark Davis, though how does anyone not get along with Mark Davis? The balloon was sort of meh and his cryotherapy disaster seems to have been verified as an accident, though a weird one. Taking on the whole NFL, though, was an outlier, and with him apparently coming out against his own safety ... that was pure diabolical genius. If he’s planning to top this, we’re all in.

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But it looks like the helmet thing is about played out, and it’s never good for anyone in any endeavor to peak too early. Or in this case, way way way too early.


Ray Ratto sees a papier-mache-helmet-in-the-locker prank in AB’s future, to which he will react poorly. At least we can hope.