The bass player was an entertainer by trade, so I wasn’t surprised by his opinion. I was in Jackson, Mississippi for the Saints training camp that summer. I had gone to a small jazz club hoping to speak to Saints receiver Joe Horn. Instead I ended up talking to this bass player. Between sets a tall, lanky chap with a crooked smile recalled the night Chad Johnson got the best of Champ Bailey. In the Bengals’ first Monday Night game in 12 years, Johnson went head to head with Denver’s Bailey, then the best corner in the game.
On the game’s third play, Johnson bolted from the line of scrimmage with a purpose. He slithered right past Bailey and skated up the seam, with Bailey in desperate pursuit. It wasn’t a complicated route. It was just quick and precise. Johnson caught the ball cleanly and raced into the end zone for a fifty yard touchdown, leaving Bailey face down in his wake. Later in the game, he beat Bailey again for another fifty yard reception. Just ran by him. No one had ever done that to Champ, and the bass player said it was his ruin. “Champ Bailey ain’t been the same ever since,” he said.
I begged to differ then as I do now. Bailey was and is very much the same player. I suspect he was talking about perception. Perhaps for a moment that night we saw Champ Bailey in a different light. I know that was true for Johnson. He hasn’t been the same since then.
That night in Cincinnati was the last time, perhaps the only time we ever saw Chad Johnson fully embody his talent without all of his well-rehearsed accouterment. He played more games and scored more touchdowns, but that one time he was stripped down to a bare bones play maker, a star.
Johnson’s timing was perfect that evening. It was following a game in which he had created the narrative by sending the Cleveland Browns secondary a case of Pepto-Bismol, for which to soothe their upset stomachs after he destroyed them. It’s what we’d come to expect from the league’s self-appointed class clown. But after Johnson dropped three balls that day, the young man did the unexpected—he retreated into silent preparation. When he emerged that Monday night, it was the very best version of himself. The silly past had been forgotten. But then again we were always cool with Chad Johnson.
Though he was guilty of every public offense afforded an athlete, Johnson remained innocent. Sure the cheerleader proposal and the Hall of Fame blazer were corny and contrived, but it was okay. At the end of the day Johnson was harmless.
Even when he ditched his slave name and took on Ochocinco, we gave him a pass—probably because he never referred to it as his slave name. That’s not him. Though he’s always been committed to all the things football folks call “distractions,” Johnson’s sincere desire to constantly entertain us has been his greatest virtue. That’s why this latest episode is so ugly. After being arrested for head butting his wife, Johnson spent this past weekend in lockup. Then he got fired.
We had already seen everything Johnson had to offer. We didn’t expect more from him, we expected less.
Well, that’s not entirely true. We did expect more from his time in New England. Once Johnson was sent to Bill Belichick’s championship rehabilitation academy, I expected him to enjoy the same results enjoyed by Rodney Harrison and Corey Dillon. By early October in their first seasons with the Patriots, no one even remembered that both Harrison and Dillon had been notoriously malcontented in San Diego and Cincinnati respectively. Both had become productive members of football society and esteemed citizens of the Super Bowl elite.
I expected the same for Johnson. But that never happened. He never mastered the option routes so prevalent in New England. Routes predetermined in the huddle were subject to change based on things as specific as what the opposite corner was doing and where the middle backer dropped. It was a complicated departure from the one note tune Johnson had become accustomed to performing. On field decision-making was his undoing. Ironic.
We’ll see him again. The reality show circuit is sustained by this sort of development and the Ev and Ocho Show—about Johnson and his battered/estranged(?) wife Evelyn Lozada, is supposed to premier in early September.
Perfect time for Chad Johnson to retreat into silent preparation for the next act.
Except it’s not an act anymore.
JUN 17 Jeff Fedotin
Following eventful offseason, Miller gears up for 2013.
JUN 15 Joel Corry
15-year veteran returns to the place where it all began.
JUN 10 Jeff Fedotin
Kansas City and new coach Andy Reid take a shot with the pistol guru.