Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson is one of the most enigmatic players in the history of the Cincinnati Bengals. With a Patriots win in the Super Bowl this Sunday, Ochocinco can cement his name with the select group in the NFL that have the title of "World Champion".
In his ten years in Cincinnati, Chad truly did it all. He had back-to-back AFC receiving crowns, was a six-time Pro Bowl selection, a three-time All-Pro selection and had the best touchdown celebrations that any of us had ever seen. He made us laugh, he made us awe-struck with his acrobatic catches and he made us frustrated with disappearances in huge games. Chad was a polarizing entertainer on and off of the football field and no matter how you felt about him, he and Carson Palmer put up some of the most exciting highlights in the history of the franchise.
Sometime during and after the 2007 season, it all went downhill though. After a disappointing 7-9 finish that season, Johnson wanted out of Cincinnati. Not so coincidentally, this is when Chad began to create the character of "Ochocinco".Going into the 2008 season, Chad went to every media outlet that he could access and publicly stated that he wanted to be traded. Owner Mike Brown stood steadfast, opting not to trade him after Ochocinco had just inked a lucrative contract a couple of years back, even declining a huge trade offer from the Washington Redskins (a lesson that Brown thankfully learned later with Palmer's trade situation). Chad didn't show up until Training Camp that year, but he finally bit the bullet and honored his contract. The 2008 season was a 4-11-1 debacle, thanks in large part to Chad's trade demand and subsequent lack of on-field effort, as well as a devastating injury to quarterback Carson Palmer.
Chad rededicated himself to football the following season, got himself into shape and fans got to see a part of "the old Chad" again in 2009. He relished the spotlight that came with HBO's "Hard Knocks" and was a main figure on that mini-series. It ended up being an exciting, albeit ultimately disappointing, year for Cincinnati as the Bengals made the playoffs and lost in the first round. Chad's hard work that offseason paid off though, as he made the Pro Bowl that year.
In the offseason leading up to the 2010 campaign, the Bengals were in the market for another wide receiver opposite Ochocinco. Expectations were high for the Bengals that year, as they retained most of their key players and were coming off of a playoff appearance. Chad lobbied hard for his friend, Terrell Owens, to come to Cincinnati and play opposite him. He got his wish and "Batman and Robin" were brought together in Cincinnati (after an embarrassment with free agent acquisition, Antonio Bryant). The experiment blew up in management's face and resulted in an atom bomb of a 4-12 season, including a ten-game losing streak.
Chad was frequently pouting on the field and the sidelines that year. So much so that in one instance, Andrew Whitworth was seen shoving Ochocinco into position on Monday Night Football against the Steelers, after Chad was sulking around and not hustling while Palmer was engineering the "hurry-up offense". It was ugly, but Ironically, some of the best offensive football that the team played was at the end of the season when "T.Ochocinco" weren't in the lineup.
Leading up to 2011, the Bengals were clearly moving in a different direction. Though they kept their head coach of the past eight seasons, the quarterback wanted out of the franchise and the longtime offensive coordinator was replaced. The writing was on the wall for Ochocinco and he knew it. He attempted to bully his way out of Cincinnati by challenging Marvin Lewis to cage fights and professing his love for Patriots coach Bill Belichick. He got his wish one last time and was traded to New England (for much less than what the team was offered in 2008).
Meanwhile, the Bengals went in a different direction, replacing Chad with the antithesis to his abilities and personality, A.J. Green. The very young Bengals team surprised everyone and made the playoffs in 2011--their first season without Chad (and Palmer). It was an impressive feat, given the offseason cards that the team had been dealt.
Chad has been consumed by "The Patriot Way" this season, being very quiet with the media and hasn't been the same character he was in Cincinnati for a decade. He also wasn't the same player on the field in 2011, amassing only 15 catches, 276 yards and one touchdown. Not quite the numbers many expected him to put up with one of the all-time great quarterbacks feeding him the ball. It's been surmised that Ocho couldn't grasp their complicated playbook and couldn't work himself on the field for more opportunities. It seems he fell the way of other disgruntled Bengals cast-offs like Carl Pickens, and not that of Johnathan Joseph or Corey Dillon. Though, like Dillon, he has an opportunity to become a world champion with the Patriots.
I'm torn about how I feel about Chad winning a championship. The inner-Bengals fan in me feels slighted by what Chad did to this franchise and the fans in the last four years in Cincinnati. It's odd how we view Palmer as "the quitter" when Chad had quit on this franchise for the better part of four years. Many times he made his own personal statistics and his self-promotion off of the field a bigger priority than the team's success. He publicly called out his quarterback on the field when he didn't get the ball, had a major halftime meltdown in the team's most important game in fifteen years and became more of a problem than he was worth at times. He always made the ridiculous sideline catches, but rarely seemed to make the routine ones across the middle where a true NFL wide receiver makes his hay. I remember getting frequently angry at what I saw from Chad on television.
But then I remember the early years. How he "wanted to be better than Rice", as he told Marvin Lewis. I remember meeting him in the street of downtown Cincinnati during my first trip to the Queen City and how he gave me a "five hug" after I called out his name and shook his hand. I remember the frequent times on Twitter that he'd tell groups of Cincinnatians to meet him at a restaurant to dine with him and that he would pick up the tab--and he delivered on that promise. I remember him predicting victories against teams and the defensive back checklist he hung in his locker. Most of all, I remember Chad Johnson making the Bengals relevant again in the 2003 season, to where they are today.
Chad hasn't done much this season to deserve a championship, statistically speaking. He wasn't even active for the AFC Championship game, though to be fair that was more of a result of him missing time with the team because of the passing of his father. Part of me wants to wish Chad luck and see him smile with tears in his eyes as the confetti rains down on him in Indianapolis. Part of me is still enraged at him that he didn't do more to help Cincinnati reach the platform that New England currently stands on. If he wins a ring, it will be culmination of his eleven years of NFL service and hard work. It's unfortunate the opportunity won't be with the Bengals, as I truly believe he wanted to win here and that was the root of a lot of his antics. The ironic thing is for how badly he wanted out of Cincinnati over the past decade, Chad will always be remembered as a Bengal with his gold teeth shining through his orange and black-striped helmet.
Good luck on Sunday, Chad. I won't be rooting for you.