Friday, June 26, 2009

Land of Confusion

William Shakespeare once wrote, “Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!” And yes, at the time he may have been authoring the line for Macbeth, but the statement currently fits Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnso….umm…Ochocinco like a glove. That’s right, Chad Ochocinco, the artist formerly known as Johnson, the Spencer Pratt of the National Football League. He’s finally back on board the “Bengal-mobile” – for the time being – which has once again sent my mind into a Tasmanian Devil-like frenzy. I tried to avoid writing about Chad, I wanted to avoid writing about Chad, but I just couldn’t do it. He has this indescribable power over me, and his actions of late have once again put him back in the national spotlight. So I had to at least take a stab at trying to figure this guy out. Unfortunately, that’s not an easy thing to do. I don’t even know where to start, so I guess we’ll have to go back to the beginning.

Chad entered the league with the Bengals in 2001, drafted out of Oregon State in the second round. Back then, he was just a skinny speedster with truck-loads of potential and a normal last name. He caught on pretty quick, becoming a regular starter in his second season and going over 1,000 receiving yards. Over the next five seasons (’03-’07), Chad caught for at least 1,200 yards and 7 touchdowns a season, and played in every game during those five years. He led the league in receiving yards during that span, and made the Pro Bowl each season. But those are just stats. Sure, you can probably infer that he is a good football player, but stats cannot even begin to tell the whole story.

Anyone that follows sports knows of Chad and his hi-jinks. We’ve all seen his ridiculous endzone celebrations and outrageous interviews. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the dude is a goofball. He once did the “riverdance” after scoring a touchdown. He once performed CPR on the football. He proposed to a cheerleader, putted the ball with a pylon, and donned a “Future H.o.F. 20??” jacket. He even claimed to have a live reindeer in his garage in preparation for a holiday-themed celebration. He made a checklist tracking whether opposing cornerbacks could cover him, sent Pepto Bismal to the Cleveland Browns secondary because he promised to make them “sick to there stomach”, stashed a “Santa Bag” on the sidelines so he could pass out toys; the list goes on and on. He obviously travels to the beat of a different whack-job, but these things are only the beginning. However, everyone in Cincinnati (and around the country, to a certain extent) put up with all of the insanity. He always seemed to back up his talk with his play on the field, so it was hard to get too upset. The man was arguably the best receiver in the league, so we cut him some slack. No big deal, right?...Right?

But the truth was that every real Bengals fan was always a little worried about Chad. We didn’t really talk about it, but it was kind of an unspoken concern. It seemed like Chad might not be fully invested in the team, like he might put himself ahead of everybody else. We couldn’t say for sure, but it felt like at any moment, if things weren’t going exactly his way, Chad could go from star wideout to team cancer. The signs were everywhere: he would get moody when he felt he wasn’t getting enough passes thrown his way…he threw mini temper tantrums when the team hit rough times…he was always intent on getting a better contract with more money. And it has never helped that his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, is basically Satan in street clothes. When you added it up, all signals pointed to Chad being somewhat of a malcontent. And if it pouts like a prima donna and whines like a prima donna, then it probably is a prima donna.

Those fears that we as Bengals fans had about Chad finally hit the fan prior to the 2008 season. Johnson (his name at the time) went on ESPN’s Mike & Mike radio show in January of ’08 and kicked the “Chad Circus” into high gear. He stated that he was hurt and offended at how he had recently been labeled a nuisance by some members of the Cincinnati media, who wondered whether his pranks and shenanigans were starting to affect the team in a negative way. He was called a cancer, and wasn’t too fond of the fact that no one on the team had come to his defense. Or at least this was the way Chad saw things. The truth was that the Bengals had been unable to return to their 2005 form as AFC North Division Champs, and Chad wasn’t happy about it. Oh, and he wanted more money. But instead of working hard, investing himself fully in the team, and trying to get back to that ’05 form (which wasn’t far off), Chad just closed his eyes, crossed his arms, puffed his cheeks and whined like a 4th grade girl who wasn’t allowed to stay up and watch Hannah Montana. And did I mention that he wanted more money?

Things were off and running. He demanded a trade, stating that he wanted a “change of scenery.” He said he felt betrayed by head coach Marvin Lewis and refused to show up to any team activities, whether they were mandatory or not. He refused to speak with any teammates (other than long-time friend T.J. Houshmanzadeh) and even threatened to sit out the season if he wasn’t moved to another organization. The relationship between him and quarterback Carson Palmer was more dysfunctional than Jon and Kate Gosselin’s. Even T.J., his best friend, was quoted as saying the team should trade him, in fear of him being a colossal distraction if he remained on the team. It was getting ugly; like “after Ice Cube left NWA” ugly. But the Bengals’ organization stood strong and refused to move the receiver, stating time and time again that Chad would remain in Cincinnati at least until the end of his current contract (up after 2011 season). And in case no one believed them, they turned down all trade offers, including a well-noted one that had Chad going to the Washington Redskins for two top-end draft picks.

It turned out the Bengals had called Chad’s bluff, because when it came time for the ‘08 mandatory mini-camp, Chad showed up. He said he wanted to honor his contract, which basically meant that he didn’t want to give up any of that precious money – which he insisted wasn’t important to him, of course. But either way, at least Chad had showed up, and we could finally put the insanity behind us…or so we thought. It turns out that Chad needed ankle surgery, something he had failed to mention or take care of during the offseason. I guess all the whining and trade demanding took up too much of his time. So the NFL’s ultimate cry-baby got the ankle surgery, keeping him out of the majority of training camp workouts and preventing him from gaining any familiarity with Palmer and the rest of the offense. Plus, when he finally returned for the preseason, he suffered a partial tear in the labrum in his left shoulder, keeping him out until Week 1 of the regular season. But maybe there was a silver lining to all of this. Maybe now we could get a few weeks of peace and quiet, right? WRONG! We soon discovered that even an injured Chad couldn’t keep himself out of the news.

This is where things really started to enter the weirdo, Donnie Darko, “are-you-freaking-kidding-me?” stage. In late August, just before the start of the season, Chad Johnson changed his name. Back in 2006, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Chad gave himself the nickname, “Ocho Cinco”, in accordance with his jersey number (85). And yes, I could delve into the fact that Ocho Cinco actually translates to “eight five” in English and not “eighty-five”, but I think I’ve already done enough to insult the man’s intelligence, so I won’t bother. Nevertheless, the nickname stuck with Chad (thanks in large part to himself), and on August 28, 2008, he legally changed his name; Chad Johnson became Chad Ochocinco. See, I don’t even have to insult his intelligence. The man provides his own gas. Due to the NFL’s jersey deal with Reebok, Chad still had to play with “C. Johnson” on his back for the ’08 season, but he was legally Chad Javon Ochocinco. Enough said.

Sadly, Chad’s name change was the highlight of his season for the Bengals. He had his worst statistical campaign since his rookie year, playing in only 13 games (starting 10) and catching just 53 passes for 540 yards. I’m sure that Palmer’s injury (he played in only 4 games) had something to do with Chad’s lack of production, but his offseason of screwing around sure didn’t help either. John Lennon sang about how “Instant Karma is gonna get you,” and it certainly seemed to find Chad Ochocinco in 2008. And yet, the legend continued.

Snap back to the present time. Following a year of bitching and complaining, Chad is once again in good spirits. So how exactly did we get here? After everything he said and did, how has he once again been accepted back by teammates and fans? Well, maybe Chad isn’t quite as stupid and air-headed as his record might suggest. Allow me to explain.

Since the end of last season, we haven’t heard much (if anything) come out of Chad Ochocinco’s mouth that was negative, towards the Bengals’ organization or any of his teammates. In fact, for the majority of this offseason, Chad remained oddly quiet. At the time, I couldn’t decide whether I liked this or not. Chad needs more media attention like he needs a hole in the head, but the fact that he wasn’t saying anything at all had me a little on edge. It was kind of like if your girlfriend went to Cancun for two weeks on Spring Break without you, and you didn’t hear from her the whole time. On one hand, by not hearing from her, it means you weren’t getting any bad news. But on the other hand, if you hadn’t talked to her for two weeks…while she was on Spring Break…without you…IN CANCUN!!!...well, you know, that wouldn’t be a good sign either. A chatty Chad might be annoying, but a silent Chad is scary. Needless to say, I was a little spooked.

But by Chad keeping quiet, he was able to let the heat die down. Bengals fans weren’t nearly as mad at him, because we didn’t have anything new to complain about. And just as all of us Chad haters moved from a low roar to a slight grumble, something incredible happened: Chad apologized. Chad Ochocinco admitted he was wrong. He said that he planned to come back to Cincinnati and work hard. He said he found perspective. He said he realized that he could only control himself and his own actions, and that last season he lost sight of that. He admitted that he was out of shape last year, that he hadn’t worked as hard or prepared himself as well as he had in the past. He confessed to losing that hunger, that drive and that desire he had thrived off of in the past. He actually seemed genuine and authentic, honest almost to a fault. I was shocked. We all were shocked. Chad was finally acting like…an adult. And that, my friends, was where I and many others thought the saga would end. Chad Johnson would come back this season, work a little harder than last year, keep his mouth shut a little more than in the past, be as productive and successful a receiver as he could possibly be for the next two seasons, and then bolt from this city like it was engulfed in flames at the end of his contract. I assumed that he realized he wasn’t going to be traded, but also that he couldn’t have another season like last year, because it would only damage his stock for the future. I was all ready to take for granted the fact that this was the way things were going to be. I thought the table was set for the next couple years. And I was also dead wrong.

On Tuesday June 9, 2009, Chad showed up to the Cincinnati Bengals’ facility to participate in voluntary team workouts. Yup, you read it correctly – VOLUNTARY. Chad is notorious for working out on his own in the summer (whether he is happy or disgruntled), only showing up to team activities when they become mandatory. So by showing up to workouts, a week before mandatory mini-camp, the entire NFL was fairly shocked. And if that wasn’t enough, it wasn’t ’08 Chad that showed up. It was the ’03-’05 Chad, the “old” Chad, the Chad everybody loved. Once again, the cameras began to swarm him like teenage girls on the Jonas Brothers, and Chad didn’t disappoint. He raved about being in the best shape of his life. He smoothed things over with Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer. He apologized to us Bengals fans, imploring us to forgive him and support him once again. He even had fake tattoos on his face. It was like Chad Johnson had just woken up from a three year trance, and now everything was back to normal. Except for the “foreign” name.

As the week went on, Chad just slipped right back into his old role as the entertainer, the prize-child of the media. He said he was going to move in with Carson Palmer for a few weeks during July, to help catch up on all the time they had missed. He challenged ESPN analyst Mike Golic to a fight. He continued to say that he was living with Carson, and that it wasn’t really up to Palmer to decide. He even started a “Twitter fight” with Chargers linebacker Shawn Merriman. And then, to put a defining stamp on the “Chad return”, he guaranteed the Bengals would make the playoffs this season. In a matter of months, he had Cincy fans go from hating him like poison to hoping he could turn things around. In a matter of weeks, he showed everyone that he was sorry for how he acted last season, and promised that it wouldn’t happen again. And in a matter of days, he once again had the NFL, sports media, and entire city of Cincinnati wrapped around his finger. Hopes were high. Fans and players alike were smiling. Everyone was getting along swimmingly. Things were finally back to the way they used to be, they way they should be. It was all good.

WARNING!!! WARNING!!! Does no one realize what just happened? Are we all so naïve that we totally missed it? This is Chad Johnson that we are talking about. The same guy that we could never trust, even when things were going good. The same guy that wilted like a daisy in Hell the moment that things got rough. The same guy that whined and half-assed his way to an injury-riddled, turd sandwich of a season last year. It’s still the same Chad, and yet he pulled the wool right over our eyes. Shame on us. We’re like those women that fall in love with serial killers and con-artists, writing letters to them in jail and promising to wait for them until they finally get out. Can we really be this stupid? Come on, we’re better than that. So listen up; I want every Bengals fan to pay very close attention to what I am about to write: Chad Ochocinco CANNOT be trusted. Do you really think the man has changed? Do you actually believe he is happy here, wants to stay here, and isn’t just looking to cash in on his next contract after the 2011 season? I consider myself an optimist, but even I’m not dumb enough to believe that Chad has undergone a true change of heart.

The best comparison I can draw to Chad is that of the character Benjamin Linus, from the TV show Lost. If you watch the show, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t follow the show, then you need to understand that Benjamin Linus is one of the most manipulative, conniving, selfish and wicked men on the planet. He is always scheming, always thinking of the best ways to further his power. At times he is charming and entertaining, and other times he is pure evil. In either event, he is always planning something, always using you as a pawn in his game. The second you believe that Benjamin Linus is genuine and sincere, he is holding you in the palm of his hand. He is always in control, and everything he does always ends with those around him getting screwed. Sound familiar? It should, because it sounds just like Chad.

Right now everything is swell. The Bengals have had a great offseason. Carson is healthy, the team is healthy, and we easily have our most talented batch of players in years. Hopes and expectations are on the rise, and Chad being happy just seems like the perfect cherry on top of the whole situation. Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s not the way it’s going to be. Ladies and gentlemen, Bengals fans everywhere – I implore you: don’t believe the hype. Everything is not as it seems. The (2nd) honeymoon could crumble at any moment, and you do not want to be the one that didn’t see it coming. I would love to be wrong about all of this, but I doubt it will end that way.

Chad blows a lot of smoke, and where there is smoke, there is probably fire. Sadly, everyone involved and invested in the Cincinnati Bengals has been burned by that fire in the past, but I’ll be damned before Chad Ochocinco burns us again.

Nobel Prize winning author Pearl S. Buck said, “When good people in any country cease their vigilance and struggle, then evil men prevail.” Be on watch Bengals fans, or else you risk letting this evil man strike once more. And that is the last thing we need. I mean seriously, haven’t we all been punished enough?

Thanks for reading

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