Gruden takes a stand for missing Antonio Brown

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Yes, Antonio Brown was listed as a starting wide receiver on the lineup card for the Raiders' opening preseason game Saturday night. No, he didn’t start. He didn’t play. He wasn’t even at the Coliseum.   

But these are the Raiders, for one last bittersweet season the Oakland Raiders, so issues and controversy never are far away — although when the team moves next season to Las Vegas, it will be plenty far away.

Yet that’s the future. Maybe so is Brown, the guy who wanted to be free of the Pittsburgh Steelers and came in trade during the off-season to the Raiders.

He brings a great ability to catch touchdown passes and, with his style (injuring his feet in a cryogenic chamber) and stubbornness (refusing to use the new helmet ordered by the NFL), a special independence.

After the Raiders' 14-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in a quite normal first game of any season, especially one that doesn’t count except for the players trying to make the team, second-year coach Jon Gruden took a stand for Brown — hardly a surprise because he was very much in favor of the move to acquire him.

“I support this guy,” Gruden said of Brown. “I don’t care what anybody thinks. The foot injury wasn’t his fault.”

The story is Brown went to Europe for cryogenic treatment, in which a part of the body is subjected to temperatures far below zero for a short amount of time. But Brown wore flip-flops on his feet instead of shoes and incurred frostbite.

“It was a total accident,” Gruden explained. “A serious injury. People are smirking at it. He’s hurt. He hasn’t done anything wrong. And the helmet thing is a personal matter.”

Brown, 31, has worn the same type of helmet for 10 years and reportedly wants to continue, even threatening to quit instead of changing to a newer model endorsed by the league.

He had a two-hour conference call with an independent arbitrator Friday to point out why, according to ESPN, he should be allowed to keep the original helmet. Brown said the new helmet restricted his vision, and according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, he has filed a grievance with the league.

“It’s a personal matter,” said Gruden. “He has a strong feeling what he should wear on his head, and we support him. We understand the league’s position as well, so we’re in a tough spot.

“We hope he’ll be back here soon, because he’s exciting to be around. He’s one of the premier competitors I’ve ever been around.”

Before Gruden returned to coach in 2018, he was the analyst on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, studying players from every team.   

“He loves to play so much,” Gruden said, exaggerating a trifle, “he’d play with no helmet. Whatever his decision, we’ll stand by it. We have confidence he’s going to be a huge factor for the Raiders in years to come.”                                                    

The factors for either team Saturday, in what amounted to an exhibition game, were not those that would be apparent in September, when the regular season gets underway. Neither Jared Goff, who led the Rams to the Super Bowl, or the Raiders’ Derek Carr played a single down at quarterback.

Mike Glennon, who started, and Nathan Peterman were the Raiders' quarterbacks, Glennon completing 17 of 25 for 200 yards and Peterman 9 of 12 for 66 yards and a touchdown. Peterman also had Oakland’s longest run when he scrambled for 50 yards.

“I though both quarterbacks in their opening possessions had beautiful touchdown drives,” said Gruden. ‘That’s what we want. We want quarterbacks to take control of the game and get us on schedule. You take the opening drive 80 yards and score.

“Credit to both those guys. Mike had two interceptions. The one in the red zone can’t happen. He got fooled on the other one. I thought Glennon did some good things in the pocket. Nathan showed his athleticism. He can run. As he continues to gain command, he’s going to be interesting to watch.”

So, presumably, will Antonio Brown, if he ever gets on the field.

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