Something happened on Jan. 8, 2006.
Cincinnati was hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers, marking an epic milestone that was once believed unachievable. For the first time in 15 years, the Bengals were in the playoffs. Everything seemed so perfect. On the second play of the game, starting quarterback Carson Palmer completed a 66-yard pass to wide receiver Chris Henry, sending the Bengals from their own 12-yard line to the Steelers 22. NOTE: Re-watch the play and remember how beautiful Palmer's deep threws used to be.
As noted in the video above, Palmer's evening was finished. Kimo von Oelhoffen (suspiciously) slammed into the quarterback's knee, forcing Palmer to spend the next eight months rehabilitating torn ligaments.
"That might be the lowest moment of my career besides my incident with the Dolphins," Chad Johnson told the Cincinnati Enquirer this week. "That might be neck and neck. The piece of completing our puzzle was the quarterback situation. The reason we were in the position we were in was because of the quarterback play. To have him go down, I don't know. That hurt. That hurt bad."
In the meantime, backup quarterback Jon Kitna took over and helped Cincinnati take a 10-0 lead with 1:09 remaining in the first quarter. That's when Pittsburgh began taking control, reducing their deficit from 10 points to three. Halftime approached. Things disintegrated. It's not exactly clear what happened, but reports tend to agree that a fight took place during halftime in Cincinnati's lockerroom... and the participants were Chad Johnson and Hue Jackson, Cincinnati's wide receivers coach at the time. There were even reports of a "headlock".
Defensive tackle Shaun Smith surprisingly detailed the "fight" three years later, adding the Chad took a swing at head coach Marvin Lewis. "He swung on Marvin. . . . [Johnson] shattered the training room glass. . . . He swung on Marving [and] hit Marvin in the eye. . . . Then he tried to swing on wide receivers coach Hue Jackson, who's now in Baltimore." Jackson denied that anything happened soon after Smith's story.
"And that's what it was and I told him, `Well, then you need to tell (offensive coordinator) Coach Bratkowski that.' And he ripped the IV out of his arm, and it's like anything else, you see blood coming out of a person's arm people think the worst. And he went from there to go into the locker room to let Coach Lewis know that, 'Hey, look, I want the ball.' And that was it. And when he opened the door he stumbled out of the training room so he was flailing and people think that he was swinging on people. Chad wasn't swinging on anybody. Chad would not hit Marvin Lewis, and Chad sure would not hit me. So that is not what happened and I'm very disappointed that now, even after two years, we have to discuss this again. But that is exactly what happened."
It's a believable story; but it was also a dead one. Three years had already gone by. Why is it back in our peripheral vision nearly 10 years later? We'll there's a sense of nostalgia based out of the Cincinnati Enquirer, who are running a series of podcasts and interviews with several members of the 2005 squad. Chad Johnson and Hue Jackson appeared on the June 30 show, during which the Enquirer asked about the fight.
"A lot of people thought me and him got into a fight," said Jackson last week. "That wasn't a fight. Chad will be the first to tell you the guy pulled the IV out of his arm and blood starts sprouting out. Everyone was trying to get it closed and the emotion of where he was and it's halftime, he ripped the thing out, wanted to go win and grabbed the door. People thought commotion was going on. I was the first person to calm him down. The other person to calm him down was T.J. Us two people standing there everybody wanted to make it more than what it was. He just had a passion to win. I love passionate football players. Everybody thought he was wrong because of what was reported but it didn't happen that way."
This statement closely resembles the 2008 quotes from Jackson. An emotional Chad without his bro-man Carson Palmer, ripped out the IV, forcing blood to surface from his arm. Say what you will about these Bengals today; the '05 squad was one of the most exciting non-Super Bowl teams I've seen in franchise history. They were damn good... and damn fun.