PITTSBURGH — Once two-thirds of Pittsburgh’s holiest trinity, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are no longer the Killer B’s — at least not in the way that gave the Steelers one of the NFL’s most potent offenses.
Now, playing on football’s biggest stage in different uniforms than the ones that made them famous, they’re a different kind of B — backups.
Bell and Brown will be playing in their first Super Bowl together, but they’ll be doing it on opposite sidelines following bitter divorces from the Steelers after the 2018 season.
“It’s crazy to think as long as we were playing together that we never made it to this point,” Bell said Tuesday. “To face and play against each other is going to be fun.”
Sunday, Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
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Each joined his new team, Bell with the Kansas City Chiefs and Brown with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the middle of the 2020 season. Neither player was active in the conference championship games because of knee injuries, and each has been limited in practice leading up to Sunday’s game (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS).
Bell, 28, has played in 10 games with the Chiefs this season, starting two. In the regular season, he recorded 63 carries for 254 yards and two touchdowns, along with 13 catches for 99 yards, a far cry from the numbers he put up in Pittsburgh as the featured back. Brown, 32, played in eight regular-season games in Tampa Bay, starting four. He had 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns, also well off the pace he set in Pittsburgh.
Neither Bell nor Brown began the 2020 season with the teams who are taking them to the Super Bowl.
Bell started off with the New York Jets, who gave him a four-year, $52.5 million contract in free agency in 2019, but that ended with his release after a trade market failed to materialize for the two-time All-Pro dual-threat back. After evaluating his options, Bell opted to sign a one-year deal with the reigning Super Bowl champions on Oct. 15, recognizing that he’d be taking a lesser role in order to join a winning team.
“I was so torn between how much of a workload did I actually want vs. winning,” Bell said, adding he was close to signing with the Dolphins. “[After my time] with the Jets, I was so focused on winning, I didn’t really care about how my production would look. It got so frustrating losing. … I want to go somewhere where I can still have my body and still help the team win.”
During the same time, as their former team was cruising to an 11-0 start, Brown was also out of work as he served an eight-game suspension for multiple violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Brown was the subject of a league investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct at his home by an artist who worked there in 2017. He also pleaded no contest in June to a felony burglary with battery charge and two lesser misdemeanors related to a January incident with a moving company. Brown’s former trainer also filed a lawsuit alleging he sexually assaulted her, and a civil trial is scheduled for next December. Brown maintained the sexual relationship was consensual.
Brown joined the Buccaneers — two weeks after Bell signed in Kansas City — at the urging of quarterback Tom Brady to elevate the offense to a championship caliber.
“Antonio and I connected right away,” Brady said. “He has a great love for the game. He’s a perfectionist about how he plays, how he takes care of himself. He has an incredible football IQ and then a great skill set as a player. He’s made incredible strides the last 12 months to get from where he was at to where he is now.”
Brown, who was cut by the Raiders and the Patriots after leaving Pittsburgh, said his shot with the Buccaneers was his “only” opportunity to prove he could return to the league. Asked to clarify whether he had other offers before signing in Tampa Bay or if he deserved another chance in the NFL, Brown deflected.
“Right now, it’s about the Tampa Bay Bucs and the Super Bowl. That’s my focus,” Brown said. “I’d be doing a disservice here to talk about things that don’t matter. I’m just grateful to be here. It’s a great moment for me, my teammates, Tampa Bay. The whole city. It’s a blessing to be here.”
Once stars in black and gold, Bell and Brown both saw their careers in Pittsburgh come crashing to an end. Bell’s holdout during the 2018 season ended his tenure with the Steelers and failed to earn him a massive pay day. Brown was a polarizing figure who was benched and traded by Pittsburgh after he skipped practices before a must-win Week 17 game in 2018.
Bell doesn’t regret his time away from the Steelers during the 2018 season.
“That never crossed my mind,” he said. “I feel like me sitting out, how I look at it is it helped me on the back end of my career. The year that I came back (2019 with the Jets) I felt like was a reset, like I was a rookie all over again. I was able to get my gatherings back. It kind of reset my body. I feel like it’s going to help me for the end of my career.”
Brown took a conciliatory tone on Wednesday, saying he stayed in touch with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and some Pittsburgh teammates, while acknowledging he has to keep his emotions in check, something that’s gotten him in trouble in the past.
“It’s all about controlling emotions — physically and mentally when you don’t feel good,” Brown said. “Don’t be a slingshot when others come at me. It’s learning how to control my attitude, not letting my emotions get the best of me.”
Because Bell and Brown are playing backup roles, some Steelers fans on social media aren’t all that upset about them playing in the Super Bowl with new teams. Many tweeted Wednesday night that they were indifferent about the pair playing Sunday, one tweeting a clip of Tomlin saying, “We do not care.”
After twisting and tumultuous paths, one of the original Killer B’s will, somewhat improbably, get his first Super Bowl ring Sunday night — without the Steelers.