By Sean Gregory
September 8, 2019

Unless you’re a huge supporter of the Pittsburgh Steelers, or among the hardest of hardcore football fans, the name Antonio Brown likely didn’t mean all that much to you before this summer. Sure, even a casual sports fan would know that Brown has been one of the best wide receivers in the NFL over the past decade; since entering the league in 2010, Brown has made seven Pro Bowls, and been an All-Pro selection on four different occasions.

But Antonio Brown, who spent the first nine years of his career in Pittsburgh, probably hasn’t been ingrained in your brain for weeks, as he almost certainly has since NFL training camps started in July.

In fact, it’s hard to summon someone who’s overshadowed America’s most popular sporting institution quite like Brown has in 2019.

Just in case you’ve spent your summer doing more productive things than paying mind to the NFL, or lingering around the Twitter freakout-sphere, here’s a quick rundown of the surreal Antonio Brown story. After the Steelers traded Brown, who clashed with Ben Roethlisberger and was benched in the 2018 season finale, to the Oakland Raiders for a third and fifth round draft picks in March, Brown proceeded to:

  1. Report to training camp in a hot air balloon.
  2. Miss practice time in camp because he went into a cryotherapy chamber without the correct footwear, resulting in a nasty foot injury
  3. Miss more practice time at camp while filing grievances (which he ultimately lost) regarding his ability to wear an old helmet that had been outlawed by the NFL for safety purposes.
  4. Skip a walkthrough prior to a preseason game in Winnipeg.
  5. Post a letter on Instagram this week from Oakland General Manager Mike Mayock detailing the fines he’d amassed for the missed time. “When your own team want to hate but there’s no stopping me now devil is a lie,” Brown wrote on the post.
  6. Confront Mayock in an altercation that reportedly almost turned physical. Brown reportedly called Mayock a “cracker,” though Brown denied using that language.
  7. Apologize to his teammates on Friday after facing a possible suspension.
  8. Tape a conversation with Raiders coach John Gruden, and use the conversation to voice over a slickly-produced YouTube hype video. Gruden said Brown would play in Oakland’s season opener Monday against the Denver Broncos.
  9. Demand his release hours later, on Saturday morning, after finding out that the Raiders would seek to void his $30 million in guaranteed money because of his disruptive behavior.
  10. Scream “free!” and joyously sprint into his backyard after finding out the Raiders let him go.
  11. Sign a one-year deal with the New England Patriots, for $15 million and a $9 million singing bonus.

Apologies if we missed another dozen or two twists.

All week long, as Brown’s days with the Raiders seemed numbered, pundits joked that Bill Belichick was waiting behind the bushes, ready to sign Brown. Maybe Brown’s plan, all along, was to engineer his firing from the Raiders and ink a deal with New England. Maybe the Pats were the only team willing to risk adding Brown.

But New England didn’t take on much risk. Belichick can just cut Brown if Brown drives him mad. Belichick, however, has a history of getting talented but mercurial players to buy into the Patriot Way. Most notably, in 2007 wide receiver Randy Moss had a monster season for a New England team that finished 16-0 (but lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl). Last season, the Patriots won the Super Bowl, their sixth. And Brady just added arguably the game’s most explosive receiver to this offense.

As the NFL kicks off its 100th season on Sunday, so many teams have hope. Remember, for instance, when the revitalized Cleveland Browns were the biggest story going into the season? With the shotgun marriage of Antonio Brown and the New England Patriots, that charming tale was just upended.

Let’s face it. At this pace, Tom Brady will be winning Super Bowls until he’s 60.

Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com.

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