Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Chad Johnson Chronicles

As a Bengals fan, what defines Chad Johnson the most to me is consistency. Chad Johnson has been over the 1000 yard mark as a receiver for 6 straight seasons. He is the only receiver in the history of the NFL to lead his conference in receiving four straight seasons. That streak ultimately came to an end this year, but you cannot pin that on Chad who turned in what was statistically his most productive year as a professional. Chad is marked by not only the consistency of his production, but the consistency of his personality. Chad is flamboyant…he brings an enthusiasm to the game and he shows it in a way that is different from most players in the NFL. He celebrates, he talks trash, he wears the wrong colored shoes, he sets aside money to pay off future fines from the NFL, and he continually interacts with the opposing players on the field. Chad has consistently worked hard. In practice he wants to run every route even though many routes are meant to get second stringers reps. He trains hard and consistently attends Bengals workout sessions. Chad has been known to call Marvin Lewis in the middle of the night, because football is constantly on his mind. He’s consistent in eating at McDonalds every morning and he’s consistent in that he has always stood up for his teammates. No one has ever heard Chad Johnson blame another teammate for a loss. They have seen passion on the sideline, they have heard him argue with teammates in the heat of battle, but at the end of the game Chad has taken more than his share of responsibility and has never put the weight of the Bengals failures on his teammates.

It is strange then that though Chad Johnson has remained remarkably consistent the perception of Chad Johnson has changed dramatically throughout the city of Cincinnati in the last half year. Chad has gone from a hero to much of the city, an athlete that Cincinnati fans loved and were proud to call their own to one that is under intense scrutiny. Chad’s flamboyance has gone from something that makes him unique and entertaining, to something makes him a distraction to the team. Once viewed as a hardworking performer with a strong personality fans now see Ocho Cinco as selfish.

When did this perception change? It’s easy to point to an article written by Paul Daugherty that appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer on October 21st of 2007. In the article title “Is Chad Worth the Trouble?” Paul compares Johnson to a scorpion. He offers this parable to his readers:

A scorpion asks a turtle for a ride across a lake. The turtle laughs and tells the scorpion he's crazy. "If I give you a ride, you'll sting me,'' he says. The scorpion replies, "Why would I do that? If I sting you in the middle of the lake, we'll both die.''

The turtle agrees to give the scorpion a lift. Halfway across the lake, the scorpion stings the turtle. As both are drowning, the turtle asks the scorpion why he stung him. "It's what I do,'' the scorpion said.
(Paul Daugherty, “Is Chad Worth the Trouble?”)

After the parable Paul equated Chad to the scorpion and indicated that Chad and the Bengals are both drowning together. The implication was that Chad’s antics are the “sting” killing the Bengals. That was a far cry from the book that Paul released just a season ago which tried to explain Chad Johnson and viewed him as a key part of the Bengals organization. Chad had not changed in that period, but Paul’s perception of what Chad was and how it affected the team certainly did.

Had Bengals Fans’ perception of Chad already began to shift before that article was written? Paul Daugherty could have easily just been building on a tension that was out there reinforcing the beliefs of many that already existed. As someone who loves the Bengals and has followed Chad’s career closely it seems to me nothing has really changed. Chad is the man he has been from day one. Chad is just as valuable today as he was during the Bengals 2005 division championship season. What follows is a Chronicle of the Chad Johnson era of Bengals football. It begins with the moment Chad came onto the national scene and my hope is that it ends with Chad in a Bengals uniform bringing a Superbowl to the city of Cincinnati:

Sunday November 9, 2003: The Bengals had been losing for years. In fact they had not had a winning season since 1990. The 12 prior seasons had included 2 years where the Bengals only won 4 games, 4 years the Bengals only won 3 games, and had reached its low the previous season when the Bengals only managed 2 wins. Yet it was this day after a win against the Houston Texans when the Bengals improved to 4-5, just one game below .500 where Chad Johnson put both himself and his team in the national spotlight. Chad guaranteed the Bengals would beat the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. Chad’s guarantee apparently came as no surprise to Marvin Lewis. When questioned about it he responded, "He guaranteed me last week that he was going to do that. I just told him about what goes along with that ---responsibilities." (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/print?id=1658697&type=story) We should have known then, this was who Chad Johnson is and who he would continue to be throughout his time with the Bengals.

Sunday November 16, 2003: The Bengals make good on Chad Johnson’s promise. Chad participates in an elaborate end zone celebration with teammate Peter Warrick pretending to take pictures as Warrick gives a variety of different poses. The Bengals had taken on the personality Chad showed. They were playing with a swagger…they were confident and given that the season before the Bengals had been 2-14 people were taking notice. This was a new Bengals with new confidence…and people loved it.

Sunday December 14, 2003: The Bengals emerged victorious against the San Francisco Forty-Niners. The win was their 7th of their last 9 games and moved them to 8-6. The playoffs loomed as possibility for Bengals. Throughout the season Chad Johnson had been fined for wearing different color shoes and other flamboyant acts which have often defined his character. After a touchdown Chad unveiled the sign that said “Dear NFL: Please don’t fine me again. Merry Christmas!!!” Fans loved it. It was another act of personality for Chad. The swagger was there and this team was red hot. They had gone from 2-14 the year before to inches from the playoffs. Though the Bengals would lose their final two games and miss the playoffs they were on the rise. The city was excited. The team had risen from the ashes and had a swagger personified in their number 1 receiver…Chad Johnson. (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=1686454)

Chad’s 2003 Season:

Chad Johnson made his first pro-bowl in 2003. He led the AFC with 1355 yards receiving and average 15.1 yards per catch. He also found the end zone 10 times. Chad’s Bengals finished 8-8.

Chad’s 2004 Season:

I won’t go into this season in as much detail. The Bengals started off slow due to adjusting to a new quarterback, but finished strong. Chad continued with his flamboyant personality. His most famous antic of the season occured leading up to the October 17 showdown with the Cleveland Browns. Chad sent the entire Browns defensive backfield some Pepto Bismol. As Johnson put it, "I sent all the Browns DBs some Pepto Bismol, to cure them of their sickness. They're going to get tired of covering me." (http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/2004-10-13-johnson-browns_x.htm) Johnson actually had one of his worst games of the season that week, but his 2004 season was another big one. Chad made his second straight pro-bowl leading the AFC in the receiving for the second straight season. This time he had 1274 yards and 9 touchdowns. Once again the end of the season left the Bengals excited. This team had personality and offensively they were coming together. With Carson, Chad, TJ, Rudi and a strong offensive line fans believed that the Bengals were prime to make the playoffs. The swagger was there in the jungle.

“Who covered 85 in 05?”

In perhaps Chad’s gutsiest trash talk yet Chad hung a sign over his locker asking the question “Who covered 85 in 05?” For each game Chad had listed the corner he expected to match with him and if that corner could cover him that game Chad would check yes. If Chad felt the corner had lost the match-up Chad would check no. Midway through the season Chad described the motivation saying this: "It's nothing but a challenge. Whoever lines up against me, I need him at his highest level of play. Actually, I want him mad before the game even starts." (http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/bengals/2005-11-17-johnson-cover_x.htm) Chad thrives on his energy and enthusiasm for the game. Throughout the season Chad would do the river dance, propose to a cheerleader, putt the ball with the pylon, and any other stunt he could think of to celebrate touchdowns. Behind Chad’s receiving, Carson’s passing, a stellar offensively line, good running by Rudi, a great change of pace back in Chris Perry and an opportunistic ball hawking defense the Bengals had their first winning season since 1991.

Though the Bengals would clinch the division on December 18 in Detroit, it was a cold December Sunday in Pittsburgh that defined the Bengals season. The Bengals offense simply refused to be stopped and like they had all season the defense made the opportunistic plays when they need a stop. There has never been a more thrilling moment for me as a Bengals fan then standing in the Pittsburgh stands in the freezing cold and watching Tab Perry drag a Steeler 30 yards to the 1 yard line to set up a key Bengals score. The Bengals believed in themselves. They were young; they had great players on offense and were ball hawks on defense. After the game Chad Johnson spoke in his usual way comparing the Steelers to black and white televisions and equating the Bengals to the new plasmas. He said it used to be the Steelers time, now it is the Bengals time.

The Bengals won the AFC North. Chad Johnson led the AFC in receiving for the third straight season this time getting 1432 yards and 9 touchdowns. He was selected to his third straight pro-bowl. In three seasons the Bengals had gone from 2-14 to division champs. Chad had continued to be flamboyant and outlandish. He had continued to want the ball and strive to be the best. Chris Collinsworth described Chad that season saying: “There's a really fine line that's hard to distinguish between, 'I want the ball because it's going to make me rich and famous,' and 'I want the ball because I can help our team win.' I really believe Chad Johnson is on the team's side. In Chad's mind, when he's complaining, it's because he thinks it's in the team's best interest.” (http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/bengals/2005-10-19-johnson-feature_x.htm)

Sunday January 8, 2006: Could this have been the day where perception of Chad Johnson really started to change? There was no drastic overnight shift. Bengals fans still loved Chad Johnson throughout the next season. Still halftime of the Bengals vs. Steelers playoff game has been relived over and over again. The Bengals had gone into Pittsburgh just one month earlier and changed the guard in the AFC North. The Steelers had been fighting for weeks to even make the playoffs. This was the Bengals’ time…Chad had said it after the meeting in Pittsburgh, the Steelers’ time was over.

On the first series disaster struck. Carson Palmer dropped back to pass and through a beautiful spiral to a sprinting Chris Henry. The ball landed in Chris Henry’s hands for a huge gain. Paul Brown stadium erupted, only to be silenced seconds later as number 9 lay on the ground in obvious pain. Kneemo will have a special and unpleasant hell awaiting him where he will join the likes of Lenny Brown, Kevin Frey, Nancy Zimpher, Jarrod West, Steve Bartman, and whoever that St Louis player was that landed on Kenyon Martin’s leg. After the play the Bengals built a 17-7 lead behind a heavy dose of Jon Kitna to Kevin Walter. The Steelers however rallied and the game was tied by halftime. Johnson evidentially was emotional at the half. Johnson had been an emotional guy throughout his career. Earlier in the season Carson had mentioned that Chad needs to learn when to hold back. (http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/bengals/2005-10-19-johnson-feature_x.htm) Chad’s junior college receivers coach had called Johnson at halftime of a game earlier in the season telling him to calm down after he had seen Johnson erupt after a bungled play. Emotion had always been there with Chad, but this time it became big news. The Bengals went on to lose the game. (http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/bengals/2005-11-17-johnson-cover_x.htm)

Chad’s 2006 Season:

The Bengals 2006 season was marked by the loss of Odell Thurman and David Pollack. These two were expected to be staples of the Bengals linebacking corp. for years to come, neither has played in a Bengals game since week 2 of that season. The Bengals season was up and down. They started brilliantly out of the gate, struggled mid-season, but going into Indy they had righted the ship at 8-5 and were looking like a playoff team once again. Then came the terrible performance at Indy. That was followed by an awful game from Carson in Denver where he missed 4 wide open receivers in the endzone but ultimately drove the Bengals in for the game tying touchdown only to have a botched PAT cost them the game and a playoff spot. Then came the Pittsburgh game where a 39 yard field goal would have placed the Bengals in the playoffs. The Bengals were so close, but the year was ultimately a disappointment. Chad Johnson put together another pro-bowl season…his forth in a row. Chad became the only receiver in NFL history to lead his conference in receiving yards 4 straight years this time racking up 1369 yards and 7 touchdowns. After the season, however, Marvin Lewis started talking about the selfishness of some of the players. Many people speculated he was talking specifically about Chad Johnson.

2007, a year of turmoil:

It would seem difficult to blame Chad for the Bengals early season struggles. He stormed out of the gate in week one with a 95 yard and a touchdown game against the Ravens. There was cause for optimism. The Bengals were 1-0. Chad Johnson unveiled a future hall of fame jersey…the stunt was not held as high as many of his past, but at the time it was largely agreed to be in good fun.

In week two Chad promised he would jump into the dog pound. I was sitting in the dog pound for week 2 and anxious to see what would happen. It looked to me like Chad actually talked to those fans before the game and got their approval. When Chad jumped in, however, those a little further away did not take to kindly and threw stuff at him. Ocho Cinco was criticized greatly for the move particularly because the Bengals were still behind. Still it was hard to argue with Chad’s results. Chad had put up 209 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Bengals had lost due to an abysmal defensive performance…nothing more.

In week three Chad put together a 138 yard game. This time he did not find the end-zone and the game ended in a loss.

Week four, another week that will forever define the Chad Johnson year of turmoil. The Bengals lost 34-13 to a Patriots team that stormed out of the gait destroying everyone. After an interception on an important drive before the half Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson got into it. Carson had thought Chad would cut his route in harder and Chad had cut it up field only slightly. The play was a huge killer for a Bengals team driving to stay in the game. Chad finished the game with 53 yards on only 3 catches, but the Bengals had now lost 3 in a row. The season was falling apart and the fight with Carson had not done anything to help.

In week six Carson and Chad would get into it again. A late drive with the game on the line, ended with a Carson Palmer interception. Carson was clearly upset with Johnson after the play. Obviously Chad had not done what Carson expected Chad to do. It was after this game that Paul Daugherty wrote the column comparing Chad Johnson to a scorpion. Paul said that Chad had cut short a route across the middle and then when he asked Carson about it: “Palmer said he wouldn't ‘get into specifics.’ Given that Palmer never calls out teammates in the press, and blames himself when things go bad, it's safe to assume Johnson was at fault.”

What struck me most about that statement was that much the same as Carson I have never seen or heard Chad throw a teammate under the bus. Carson has been the classiest of quarterbacks. He says the right things to the media, he takes responsibility, he doesn’t make a show of himself on the field and he stays out of trouble. Chad has always been enthusiastic, loud, and a showman…but like Carson, Chad has consistently been supportive of teammates and never put the blame on their shoulders. Despite their totally different personality types they both win and lose as a team. The insinuation Daugherty makes by stressing that Palmer never calls out teammates is that Chad does. He also makes the insinuation that Carson takes responsibility when something is his fault and Chad never does…in reality though Chad had already taken responsibility for the INT in the Patriots game at the end of the half and has consistently taken responsibility for areas of his game he wants to improve. (http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/bengals/2007-10-03-chad-johnson_N.htm)

This did not sit well with me as a Bengals fan and a fan of Johnson. Clearly the article had a much more personal effect on Chad Johnson. The season before Paul Daugherty had released the book Chad: I Can’t Be Stopped. In this book Paul portrayed Chad as a joker. He portrayed him as a hyperactive clown, as a flamboyant personality who thrived because of his enthusiasm. Chad shared with Paul Daugherty his life story, talking about his struggles growing up, how football was instrumental in saving his life, and the important women who helped shape who he is as a man. Chad trusted Daugherty with this information. He believed that when Paul indicated that despite all of his unique traits Chad was a good teammate he meant it. This column was a complete turnaround…Paul must have easily seemed like the scorpion to Chad. This column started making everyone in the local media question Chad Johnson and Johnson’s reaction was to ignore the local media. This only inspired the media to pile on more and more.

I won’t go through the rest of the season week by week. The Bengals struggled for much of the rest of the year. They have struggled for a variety of reasons since the 2005 season. The defensive issues are the most widely publicized and easiest to recognize but I’ll list some of the glaring issues on offense.

1. The Bengals miss Rich Braham. Rich was a fantastic center. He called out protections and rarely got pushed inside. Ghiaciuc is simply not as good. He gets pushed backed in the middle allowing for too much pressure in Carson’s face and making the running backs make a lot of their initial cuts in the backfield. He is also far less experienced at the center position which is a position on the line where experience is really a big deal.

2. Their offensive tackles have been banged up. I would argue in 2005 Willie and Levi were the best set of tackles in the NFL. I was particularly impressed with the way Levi obliterated great pass rushers consistently that season. Anyone who watched the Indianapolis game in 2005 saw Levi just destroy Freeny play after play. Their injuries have really hurt the continuity of the offense.

3. Steinbach was a stud. Ask Cleveland how awesome he is.

4. Rudi has been banged up. The combination of Rudi being hobbled by injuries and a weaker offensive line has really hurt the running game. Without a strong running game the passing game has struggled with consistency.

5. The Bengals have lacked a true change of pace back. People continually underestimate how important Chris Perry was to the Bengals success in 2005. Without that change of pace guy who is actually a threat to take it to the house defenses have really had far less to worry about with the Bengals.

6. Chris Henry has killed us with his immaturity. Chad may ultimately be a bit immature, but he has consistently been on the field, worked his tail off and continually produced. The same cannot be said for Chris Henry.

7. Tab Perry gave us great field position throughout 2005 with his kickoff returns. The Bengals have lacked that ability since his injuries.

I would not even think of including Chad Johnson on that list…he is not why the Bengals have been losing and will not be as long has he continues to work hard and produce, while not throwing teammates under the bus. People may get frustrated with him when we lose, but when we win they do not mind it at all. Chris Collinsworth said it perfectly in Paul Daugherty’s column “Is Chad Worth the Troublewhen he stated, "You have to be realistic about who Chad is. He's about as emotionally high strung as any human being I know. That's great when things are going well. His emotions can drive a locker room. Unfortunately, we're in the middle of the other side of that now.''

As Chad continued to get blamed by the media clearly he was upset. As Chad’s teammates failed to step up and say this is not Chad’s fault it clearly hurt Chad Johnson. Anyone who has followed Chad Johnson’s career understands he is an emotionally high strung guy. Chad continues to be the same guy he has been throughout his time in Cincinnati. There was a time when the team fed off that kind of energy. There was a time when the fans loved it, but in that time the Bengals were the up and coming team. They were poised for great things and Chad was an integral part of that. Now a lot of what made the Bengals so good has changed. The defense and offense have lost a ton of key components that were there for the 2005 run. They have not been adequately replaced.

I firmly believe that if the Bengals step up and come to Chad’s defense he will play here happily. If the players stand up and say “We believe in Ocho Cinco. He is a man who consistently gives us everything he has. He loves to be outlandish, to talk to opposing players, and to celebrate success, but ultimately he wants to win.” If the Bengals stand up and say that Chad will be here and ready to go next season. Chad will continue to do the things that make him great.

This year Chad Johnson failed to lead the league in receiving through no fault of his own. He finished the season with a Bengals record 1440 yards as well as 8 touchdowns. TJ is already leading the way saying: “We have a pretty close team so I would think everybody supported him, but maybe he thinks some guys don't like him. Chad's my guy. I've never had a problem with him. I think he'll be back this year. I think we'll be together again next year playing.” (http://www.bengals.com/news/news.asp?story_id=6615)

The Bengals would be crazy to trade Chad. I have heard people in the media constantly say that you win with defensive line and offensive line play. Yes…obviously that is a big deal, but trading Chad won’t get you any guaranteed success there. You simply have to make good decisions and bring in the right people. Go after a guy like Jared Allen to get to the QB. Trading Chad Johnson will kill our cap to even sign draft picks much less a free agent like Allen… it is a bad idea. Chad is Chad everyone. Chad is as consistent a player and personality as there is in the NFL. He has been Chad throughout his time as a Cincinnati Bengal. We celebrated him when we were up and coming, we celebrated him when we were division champs, and then ridiculed him when the Bengals started on the downward trend. Chad has stayed consistent. It is everything around him that has changed. We already know we can win with Chad. We have done it before. If we get the pieces in place around him, and Carson, and TJ we can certainly do it again.


Lakeman said...

I've been saying for weeks that even if the Bengals wanted to trade Chad, (I don't think they should), they can't. Their cap would be blown up due to Chad's pro-rated signing bonus. They'd be better off with him sitting out the season than cutting or trading him.


I remember that following the Tennessee game this year, all the local radio personalities wanted to talk about was Chad's cameraman celebration and the 15 yd penalty. They failed to mention his 103 yds and 3 TDs. I'll take a 15 yd penalty on a kickoff in the 1st qtr. from a guy that scores 3 TDs any day.

Who Dey

stones said...

I had heard of a souring between Chad and the media this past season and I'm wondering if that has played a role in turning fans against him. It's one thing to get skewered in the Enquirer, quite another if the fans who read that rag every day begin to drink the anti-85 kool-aid.

Chad's recent antics at this month's Pro Bowl, however, speaks to me of deeper problems. As you say, I don't ever recall Chad throwing others under the bus, so it seems likely that there is actually a serious issue between him and the Bengals that has so far been kept behind closed doors. In an interview at the aforementioned Pro Bowl, he seemed to indicate that the Bengals had a problem with his behavior:

"I get out of line at times, but what great one doesn't? What great one doesn't get emotional? Find me a great one who hasn't done it like that and I'll be quiet."

(Source: http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=3236165)

If that really is the issue, then the Bengals need to reevaluate their priorities for this off-season. Whatever is driving Chad to openly ask out of Cincy needs to get fixed. I'd hate to see 85 become the next Corey Dillon.

Also, Chris Perry SUXXXXXX.