When you’re an artist, you take just about any gig you can get. Most of the time, though, it doesn’t get you to the NFL.
Corey Pane spent years making album covers and band posters. He’s done some airbrushing. Once he even made leather shoes, working with a friend doing hand-sewing.
Now he customizes some of the most talked-about cleats in the NFL, his creations ranging from the likenesses of Miami icons to a Veterans Day tribute. Pane is the artist behind Steelers receiver Antonio Brown’s parade of cool kicks this season, and the NFL can’t stop the duo.
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“I’ve never really done cleats before this,” Pane says. “I just take whatever comes my way. I’m not really like a cleat guy. I’m just an artist. A painter.”
Around the time Brown came into the league in 2010, some of Pane’s artwork caught his eye. He commissioned Pane to do a painting of his children, and the two kept in touch after Brown liked the final product. Pane would occasionally go to Steelers home games, and late this preseason athlete and artist talked about painting some cleats and wristbands for Week 1.
Using some of Brown’s old cleats, Pane tried a few designs. Then Brown shipped Pane his game cleats, and they then came up with Week 1’s design: baby blue cleats with “84” etched on them. Brown considers the color blue to be inspiring, tweeting early in the season that blue “is trustworthiness and calm.”
The next week against the Bengals, Brown again wore light blue cleats with wings on the sides, though he only wore them in pregame warmups. He wore blue cleats with images of his children the following week against the Eagles but was forced to change them during the game because they did not conform to the league’s uniform rules.
“We came up that we will do them and he’ll wear them in pregame so he doesn’t keep getting fined,” said Pane of Brown, who was fined $6,076 in Week 1 for the blue cleats. “He didn’t want to risk getting ejected or suspended or anything.”
A Miami native, Brown wanted to do something special for the Steelers’ Week 6 game against the Dolphins. He asked Pane to paint the faces of late Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and late fighter Kimbo Slice on wildly colorful shoes. Brown wore them in warmups, then switched to league-approved cleats for the game.
Though they are discussed often among league observers, Brown’s weekly cleats aren’t talked about much within the Steelers’ locker room.
“I know some of it’s interesting commentary. You guys can have at it,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said last month. “But don’t expect us to participate or be enthusiastic participants in it. Because, really, it’s irrelevant. Guys change shoes in the midst of games all the time. They change gloves, they put gloves on, they take gloves off, they wear wristbands, they don’t wear wristbands. It was a non-issue for us.”
Last week Brown wore cleats bearing an image of DJ Khaled, whose “Business is boomin’” phrase Brown has adopted. Pane did not paint those, though. He has already painted cleats honoring Brown’s dad, former arena football star “Touchdown” Eddie Brown, and cleats honoring college-aged Michael Jordan that Brown will wear in Week 13 to donate to the Boys & Girls Club. On Thursday he’ll get Brown’s cleats via overnight package, paint on an image of Pat Tillman and ship them back to Brown on Friday so that they can be worn Sunday against the Cowboys as a Veterans Day tribute.
What does Pane charge Brown? They haven’t even discussed money. The two are friends, and Pane is sure Brown will be fair whenever they start talking turkey.