Chad Ochocinco(notes) has spent his entire NFL career screaming to be noticed, to be respected, to be, well, pretty much anything. Love him, hate him, misunderstand him. Does he really care? Just keep talking about him.
There isn't a gimmick he hasn't attempted. He changed his name to match his uniform number. He's appeared on "Dancing With the Stars." He once rode a bull (for 1.5 seconds) at a professional bull rider's event. Another time he tried to race a thoroughbred (given a sizeable head start, he won). He's had reality shows, talk shows and even his own online "news network." He's approaching 30,000 tweets.
He's a carnival barker who specializes in touchdown celebrations. Once, after a score, he put on a mock Hall of Fame inductees jacket that read across the back "Future H.o.F 20??"
Here's the thing: He isn't a Hall of Famer. He's not close. Not yet anyway.
On Thursday, Ochocinco was given the first day of the rest of his professional life, freed from a sinking ship in Cincinnati right into a Super Bowl contender in New England.
Now is the time for him to step back from the showmanship, to shut off the Twitter feed, to buckle down and remind people that behind all the style there is substance. He doesn't need to catch a million touchdowns, just serve as a good, solid option on a well-oiled machine.
Much is being made of New England's acquisition of Ochocinco and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth(notes) from Washington on the same day. The simple storyline says they represent Bill Belichick's two latest reclamation projects that he'll attempt to spin into late-career gold.
That's unfair to Ochocinco. He isn't a malcontent. He isn't a problem on or off the field. He's never been out of shape or lacking a will to win. He doesn't need motivating or a new work ethic or even, in many ways, an attitude adjustment.
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Ochocinco has almost always played hard. Belichick has been raving about him for years in part because the New England coach recognized and respected that deep down Ochocinco loves the game. He's not your typical wide receiver diva.
What the Patriots offer isn't a chance to learn how to act, but the platform where acting up is no longer necessary. It's all there now, right at his fingertips. This isn't small-market Cincy and the woebegone Bengals, forever overlooked unless you make yourself impossible to ignore.
He's home in a big, East Coast media hub, with a huge spotlight and every bit of buzz he ever craved. This is prime time, New England and all the big games it plays – the Sunday and Monday nights, the traditional midseason clash against the Indianapolis Colts, the rivalry matches with the New York Jets, the inevitable trip to the playoffs.
For once, Chad Ochocinco doesn't need to call attention to himself. It'll come on its own in a way that's bigger and brighter than he ever imagined.
"God is Good," he tweeted when the deal was finalized, the Pats giving up just a couple of late-round draft picks.
If he comes in and just plays football, he can make this very good. If he just buries his head in being part of the team and let winning do the promoting for him, then everything changes for Ochocinco. Randy Moss(notes) went from malcontent to blue-collar good guy and then finally back, all based on how closely he stayed the course in Foxborough.
There's nothing inherently wrong with self-promoting. This is the entertainment business and Ochocinco is following a well-worn path to fame and fortune. He caught just 66 touchdowns in 10 seasons with the Bengals, cracking double-digits just once (10, way back in 2003).
If he acted like just humble old Chad Johnson he'd be a good player, but hardly a household name. The endorsements would've been minimal. Not everyone likes the look-at-me stuff, but it is what it is. Most of it is pretty fun. He isn't hurting anyone.
Except, perhaps, his own legacy. The spectacle has overshadowed the career, hidden his work ethic and overwhelmed his humble backstory. It's left many unaware of his commitment to the game and the talent he's mostly maximized.
On Thursday, he was lumped right in with Haynesworth, one of the biggest free-agent busts in NFL history, even though the two have next to nothing in common. That's the trade-off all the self-promotion produced, which doesn't make it any easier to accept.
Now here's the chance to flip the script, to rewrite his story, to bring it back to reality.
He already has all the fame he needs. Now is the opportunity to dial it down, shut up and play and let a run at a Super Bowl speak loudest of all.
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