Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown played ultimate with campers at Camp Spirit of the Game and talked with Ultiworld's Tad Wissel about the sport. See what he had to say (and check out his lefty pull!)
June 26, 2014 by Tad Wissel in Interview with 14 comments
“You’ve got to have great agility. You have to be highly conditioned,” Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown said.
“And you definitely have to be able to catch and throw the frisbee.”
That’s right. A two time pro bowler — a guy that caught 110 balls and tallied nearly 1,500 receiving yards in the NFL last season — was talking about ultimate.
How can you not take him at his word? Brown has played in the NFL and played Ultimate. That’s a strange area of overlap. Who else has the basis for comparison? (Well, other than Shannon and Sterling Sharpe, who played some kind of crazy Ultimate game on Wide World of Sports in 1992).
After a workout on Monday, Brown and two other NFL players stumbled upon Camp Spirit of the Game, an Ultimate camp for kids, in a Pittsburgh park and joined in a scrimmage. Brown stuck around late past the end of the game to sign autographs and take pictures with the kids. It was Brown’s second time playing Ultimate, since he first saw Camp Spirit while doing a track workout last August.
In a phone interview following his experience at Camp Spirit, Brown offered some interesting opinions on the game. Elite level athlete aside, in a lot of ways Antonio Brown is your average Joe Sports Guy. He’s somebody who loves exercise, skill, and competition, but, like a lot of people, is new to Ultimate.
Here’s what Brown had to say.
As a professional athlete is there anything about Ultimate that challenges you physically?
Absolutely. It’s a different game. It’s a passing type game which makes it so fun. As an athlete playing football you’ve got to wait for someone to touch you or tag you to stop. In Ultimate as soon as you catch the frisbee you’ve got to stop and look to pass. So it’s a catch/pass type game. A lot of great agility and non-stop running. A little mixture of soccer and 7-on-7 football.
What do you think is the most important skill in Ultimate? If you were going to be really good, what do you think is the most important aspect?
I think it’s a little bit of everything and I think you’ve got to have a great team. You’ve got to be able to catch it and run. You’ve got to be able to play defense and scan the field. The good thing about Ultimate is you play offense and defense. Everybody gets an opportunity to catch, to throw, to run, to play defense… To be a great player you’ve got to have great agility. You have to be highly conditioned. And you definitely have to be able to throw and catch the frisbee.
How are your throws? Can you throw?
Yeah. I can throw pretty good. I actually was learning some different ways when I was out there playing but I’m really good at catching. I just love to run long and have the guys really wing it deep. It’s pretty neat. You’ve got to really lock in and hone in your eyes on the frisbee because it can sail, it can float. It kind of gets that hand-eye coordination prepared for football.
There are two professional leagues in the United States right now. Pittsburgh does not have a team. Do you think professional Ultimate is watchable? If Pittsburgh had a team would you pay $10 to sit down and watch a game?
Absolutely. I would love it. Just the hand eye coordination that goes into it… it’s an awesome game. I would love to see it played on the professional level. I would definitely be embracing and welcoming to it coming to Pittsburgh and I would absolutely take my family to sit down and watch it. Just the agility of the guys and the hand eye coordination and the excitement of playing… watching the frisbee as it sails just makes it an exciting game to watch.
You’re a dad. What would you say to your kid if they came home from school and told you they were interested in playing Ultimate?
I’d be totally excited. Knowing they would get better conditioning, interact with thier friends, knowing they’d be working their hand-eye coordination and the ability to throw the frisbee in different ways. It’s definitely a great time.
On playing Ultimate after his NFL career…
Man, Ultimate is a part of my regimen. I love after a long hard track workout or a sled push to get some cardio in and not only catching the football but going after the frisbee. It’s different, catching a frisbee… the frisbee can sail or go up and down so you’ve got to have your eyes and your coordination right, watching it all the way through the catch. It’s definitely a game I love to play and I continue to play in my off season workouts.
I left this conversation with a few head-scratchers. First, how could anyone think catching a football is easier than catching a disc? I’ve gone to some flag football games and straight up embarrassed myself with drops. Like, to the point of buying $50 gloves, which didn’t help, then never going back again. Second, how could someone who has played the game only twice sum up Ultimate so well?
Agility. Non-stop running. Passing game. Scanning the field. Exciting. These are exactly the kinds of things every Ultimate player has said in an effort to purvey to a friend, coworker, or family member to what they like about the sport. Antonio Brown drew the same conclusions.
His description of Ultimate is spot on. “A little mixture of soccer and 7-on-7 football.” Obviously, the constant running of soccer is ever-present in Ultimate but the 7-on-7 thing is a new, great twist. Regular football is too specialized with linemen, etc., to make an accurate comparison but 7-on-7 keeps the explosive, big play elements of Ultimate in mind. 7-on-7 is also non contact.
It’s not what you’d expect an NFL star to do, just wandering into a pickup game unprompted during the offseason, with no obligation to share an enthusiasm for being active with kids. Maybe some of that comes from Brown’s modest draft status as a sixth round pick from Central Michigan. Whatever it is, there’s a sense of refreshment when an athlete does something like that when they have zero obligation to do so.
There’s a fair amount of celebrities who have been rumored to play Ultimate – people you have dogeared in your mental rolodex that whenever their name is brought up you think, “Oh yeah. They played Ultimate.”
Professional poker player Phil Hellmuth once threw 10 hammers across a pool at Norman Chad during a goofy recorded segment during the World Series of Poker. The winner of ESPN’s 2004 “Dream Job” sports anchor contest supposedly played while at Missouri. Big shot Hollywood producer Joel Silver (Die Hard and the Lethal Weapon series) is arguably on the Mount Rushmore of Ultimate. A buddy of mine even once claimed to have layout D’d Bill Nye during an alumni game at Cornell, though that is totally unsubstantiated, and based on the Science Guy’s understanding of physics, likely impossible.
But very few of them are ambassadors for the game in any real, tangible way.
He’s not throwing out the inaugural pull at a professional game or plugging Ultimate on SportsCenter, but I think it’s safe to wager Antonio Brown is the only pro bowler in the NFL throwing a disc this summer.
It’s a start.
NOTE: As if he weren’t already a great athlete, Antonio Brown is also left handed. Double threat guy.