Strange dude, that Antonio Bryant. That's probably all you have heard about the Bucs' enigmatic receiver, who is as fidgety as a first-grader and makes about as much eye contact as strangers in an elevator. That and the fact that he can do things catching a football that would have had him burned at the stake in Salem a few hundred years ago. (Did you see the diving, one-handed touchdown grab Monday night at Carolina? Pure witchcraft.) But chat with Bryant long enough and another perception emerges: He's thoughtful, funny, remorseful, focused and passionate as heck about the game of football. "He lives life to the fullest, man," receiver Michael Clayton said. "He's a fun guy to be around, on and off the field. He's a guy I have over to the house. But he has fun, man. It's a good thing. He's always safe. He's always careful. He doesn't like to be around big crowds. He's real smart in how he handles himself."
A year ago, not one NFL team wanted Bryant, presumably because of a DUI arrest that got him suspended in 2007 and well-documented blowups with coaches Bill Parcells in Dallas and Mike Nolan in San Francisco.
Bryant, 27, admits he has had to learn to control his emotions, especially in practice and games. There are plenty of things he has done that he wouldn't do now.
"Like tell them to throw me the damn ball," Bryant said. "I don't fuss at my head coach. (Receivers coach Richard) Mann says come to him. So I come to him and talk to him about it. He knows I'm frustrated, but then he'll ask me, 'You're still my guy, man? Are we cool?'
"I'm like, 'I'm cool, man. You know I've got to come vent with you, man.' And that helps me a lot because I still have my demons I've got to fight. I'm not perfect. I'm human. Hey, I've still got my demons, but it's all about how you control it and how you handle it, and that's my way of doing it."
Nobody ever doubted Bryant's talent. He won the Biletnikoff Award at the University of Pittsburgh as the nation's best receiver and was a second-round pick by the Cowboys in 2002.
But there has to be a reason he tore through four teams in six years despite averaging 15.1 yards per catch.
"When he first got here, he was kind of a loner," Mann said. "He didn't know the lay of the land, didn't know the coaches, didn't know the players. It ain't like that now. He's been accepted by the players and the coaches."
Not that they needed a padded meeting room for Bryant. Sure, he has had outbursts. The one in Dallas, where he was part owner of a strip club, was originally aimed at receivers coach Todd Haley for not making Keyshawn Johnson run more routes. In San Francisco, his Lamborghini was clocked at more than 100 mph on Highway 101.
Bryant was told by the Bucs that they were taking an eraser to his career. Come in, start over.
"I knew I had a clean slate," Bryant said. "I knew there was still going to be things there that people were going to scratch their head about. But at the end of the day, I'm here to play football. This is not a day care. It's not a soap opera. It's football, and that's what we're here to do. I don't need a babysitter or a security dude to follow me home."
Bryant says his teammates probably think he's crazy, not for his actions but for the comic relief he provides with a deadpan sense of humor.
"I'll say some things, I know it's off the wall sometimes, but it'd be the truth," Bryant said. "That's what makes it crazy because it's funny the majority of the time because everybody can relate. Most of the time, it's things you would think in the back of your mind but wouldn't necessarily say out loud.
"We talk about everything. We talk about (Barack) Obama, everything. … The most real thing I can say about Obama? Obama was focused, man. Every speech he came to, every debate, he was prepared."
Then Bryant smiled. "He stutters a lot."
On the field, Bryant still has a chip on his shoulder pads. He can list the nine receivers picked before him in the draft — Ashley Lelie, Javon Walker, Tim Carter and Reche Caldwell among them. But none leads his team the way Bryant is (66 catches, 936 yards, five touchdowns). On Monday night, his nine catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns made for the second-best performance in team history.
"That was a big stage — the biggest one he's been in around since he's been here — and the opportunities were there," Mann said. "He cashed in, big time."
Bryant could cash in as a free agent after the season. Strange how things work out, isn't it?
"When it comes to this game, I'm passionate about it," Bryant said. "I'm built like this: If I'm not going to do it 100 percent, I'm not going to do it at all.
"That's why I've learned patience. Just wait for it. Wait for it. Boom! Touchdown!"
Sunday, December 14, 2008, Section C * * * *
|Round 1||Round 2|
|Team/Pick||Saints, 13||Broncos, 19||Packers, 20||Texans, 33||Bills, 36||Giants, 46||Browns, 47||Chargers, 48||Steelers, 62||Cowboys, 63|
|Player||Donte Stallworth||Ashley Lelie||Javon Walker||Jabar Gaffney||Josh Reed||Tim Carter||Andre Davis||Reche Caldwell||Antwaan Randle El||Antonio Bryant|
|Browns, 14-141||Raiders, 11-197||Raiders, injured||Patriots, 33-378||Bills, 41-454||Out of league||Texans, 10-155||Out of league||Redskins, 48-557||Bucs, 66-936|