KO OLINA, Hawaii – Chad Johnson alternates between charming, petulant, funny and selfish as quickly as waves hit the sand at this beachside resort where the NFL's finest have gathered for the annual Pro Bowl.
One minute, he sounds as if he's open to staying with the Cincinnati Bengals. The next, Johnson insinuates that he needs a change of scenery. Even more, the Pro Bowl wide receiver insists that he is not a problem child, but a misunderstood individual who just wants to win.
"Me? Controversy? Please," said Johnson, whose AFC squad takes on the NFC in Sunday's Pro Bowl. "I do one thing: I show up on Sunday and make plays."
Johnson made plenty of those this past season, producing a career-high 1,440 yards on 93 catches with eight touchdowns. But since Cincinnati's disappointing 7-9 has come to a close, there's been all kind of buzz surrounding his future.
Reports surfaced that Johnson, two years into a six-year deal reportedly worth $35.5 million, wanted to be traded and that he has threatened to hold out during the 2008 season if his request wasn't met. Johnson's agent Drew Rosenhaus later denied the report and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said last month that Johnson would not be dealt. However a few days later, the receiver was videotaped telling new Miami Dolphins vice president of football operations Bill Parcells to "call me man."
Yet in Johnson's eyes, he's not responsible for any of the controversy.
"You know what one of my problems has always been is trying to please everybody. … But I think right now in the situation that is going on, I think Chad has to worry about Chad," Johnson said, "… because I have worried about the outside the entire time I've been playing and the outside has been sort of (kicking) me in the ass this year. I just have to worry about Chad. I have done everything right since I've been here. I've done nothing wrong."
Maybe not from his standpoint, but a case can be made that Johnson certainly crossed the line Thursday.
After spending 10 minutes fielding mostly softball questions following practice, Johnson walked away from several reporters. When a league public relations staffer asked Johnson to stop for a couple of reporters, Johnson impatiently answered one question, then scoffed at a second before walking away.
When the league employee talked to Johnson again, Johnson pushed his arm aside and got on a bus shuttling players to and from practice. On Friday, Johnson apologized to the league employee and spent the better part of 30 minutes doing interviews.
Johnson wouldn't be in Hawaii if not for a confluence of factors. First, New England Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss bowed out of the game. Second, Johnson's trip to Kenya was postponed by a burgeoning tension bordering on civil war in the country over recent elections.
"I couldn't go. What if a war really broke out?" said Johnson, who has spent time in Kenya the previous two offseasons helping build a school and rescuing children living in the squalor of country villages with no clothes, shoes or even decent sanitation.
But thousands of miles away from Kenya, Johnson still finds himself trying to clean up a mess. Some of his comments are sure to come off as convoluted and selfish, the stuff of other diva-like receivers such as Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson. Throw in Deion Branch and Javon Walker and there is a trend among top-shelf receivers forcing themselves out of undesirable situations and landing with teams who are willing to provide more lucrative contracts and/or a better chance of winning.
"Hey, if you've got the power to do that and you don't mind that, do it," Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver said. "Me, personally, I'm not that way. I'm happy with everything I've gotten from my team and how my situation has come out. But if guys aren't happy with their situation, that's different."
From everything Johnson is saying, it sounds like he wants the same thing. For instance, when he was asked Friday about his best memory of being an NFL player, Johnson took a backhanded swipe at the Bengals.
"Best memory? My only good memory right now is to come here in the offseason," Johnson said. "I feel I have a lot more memories to come, so get back to me on that one."
At the same time, he later said: "Everything is working fine. I'm just sharing my thoughts. I'm fine. I'm fine. I just want to play. No, no, no, I just want to win. … it's all about the winning regardless."
Regardless of what?
"Regardless of anything. It's about winning," Johnson said. "It's about postseason victories, getting to the Super Bowl. That's the whole point of being in this game. That's the reason you go through the offseason program, why you go through mini-camp, through training camp, beating each other up in two-a-days and when you continue to do it year after year after year and you don't get to reap the rewards of that work, it tends to wear on you a little bit."
So, can Johnson be happy in Cincinnati?
"It can be wherever," he said. "Cincinnati, that's where I am. That's who I play for. See the 'B?' "
As he talked, Johnson pulled on his jersey to show the Bengals patch on the side of his Pro Bowl uniform.
For that moment, he actually sounded earnest. At the same time, another wave was about to hit the beach.