It was one of those typically incestuous Tinseltown celebrity convergences, an impromptu conversation between an athlete who changed his name to enhance his fame and an actor who need only drop his first name to receive the red-carpet treatment.
Yet when Cincinnati Bengals wideout Chad Ochocinco met Denzel Washington at a Los Angeles Lakers game this past spring, it wasn't the mutual fawning session you might expect. Rather than compliment the receiver formerly known as Johnson for his athletic excellence, Washington called him out, portraying Ochocinco's lost 2008 season as a self-inflicted nightmare.
Washington, left, and Ochocinco during the NBA's Western Conference finals.
"He got on me about the way I handled myself last offseason," Ochocinco recalled in a phone conversation last week. "He wasn't being gentle. He said, 'You know what? You need to straighten up and stop fussin' about something you have no control over. Make it fun again because it sure looks better when you do it that way.' That's all I needed to hear, especially from somebody like him."
Is it possible that the NFL's presumptive 2009 comeback player of the year could owe an assist to a man who owns two Oscars? We're getting ahead of ourselves, but two things are clear as what's left of the offseason melts away: 1) Ochocinco, 31, believes he's headed for a monster season; and 2) Washington successfully imparted a stop-being-a-knucklehead sentiment that so many people shared last year as the formerly ebullient Pro Bowler devolved into the NFL's de-facto grumpy old man.
From 2004 to 2007, Ochocinco (or, to be accurate, Johnson) thrived on the field – he led the NFL in receiving yards (5,515) and was second in catches (372) over that four-year span – while doing his best to remind us that football isn't war. He proposed to a cheerleader in the end zone, gave CPR to a football after another touchdown and kept a conspicuous checklist in his locker featuring the cornerbacks he planned to burn each week.
When I profiled him for Sports Illustrated before the '05 season, Ochocinco guaranteed that the Bengals would make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, a prediction that proved to be accurate. But after a pair of disappointing follow-up campaigns, Ochocinco decided he wanted out of Cincinnati – a time-honored tradition of disgruntled Bengals skill players (Carl Pickens, Corey Dillon(notes)).
Predictably, he was not subtle in expressing his wishes.
In the days leading up to Super Bowl XLII in Arizona, Ochocinco did a series of interviews in which he openly campaigned to be traded to various teams. He skipped all of the team's offseason workouts and, in April of '08, reiterated that "I don't want to play for the Bengals."
Bengals owner Mike Brown was adamant that the team would not give in to the receiver's wishes, and Ochocinco was clearly perturbed upon reporting for training camp. He separated his left shoulder in a preseason game and, with star quarterback Carson Palmer(notes) out most of the season with a torn elbow ligament, caught just 53 passes for 540 yards in a 4-11-1 season.
A heart-to-heart conversation with Brown in January put Ochocinco's mind at peace, he says, and he began an ambitious offseason training program that included regular boxing workouts. The dressing-down from Washington – think head coach Herman Boone in "Remember The Titans" – convinced him to start channeling his inner Muhammad Ali.
"My checklist is going back up this year," Ochocinco says. "The bottom line is that football is fun. A lot of people, they forget about that. This is a business, a harsh business. We're all one play away from having our careers cut short. The one thing I do is, I play the game like a kid. Last year, I let the business side get the better of me. This year, I'm bringing the fun back."
His comical Twitter feud with San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman(notes) (inadvertently instigated by Y! Sports' Charles Robinson, though he's too shy to admit it) was a taste of the old Ocho with a new catchphrase: "Child, please." You're going to be hearing it quite a bit over the next few months, especially on HBO's "Hard Knocks."
Few athletes express themselves so creatively. After skipping most of the Bengals' offseason program, Ochocinco surprisingly showed up in early June for several OTA sessions in advance of a mandatory minicamp. Asked by reporters about his relationship with Palmer – which has had its share of tension – Ochocinco insisted all was well, saying, "We're like Brokeback Mountain."
Before the minicamp, Ochocinco got an unexpected phone call from Washington.
"He was in Europe, filming a movie, yet he took the time to reach out," Ochocinco marvels. "He wanted to make sure my mind was clear. He is the coolest individual I've ever met. Seriously."
Ochocinco plans to repay Washington by having a great year and smiling all the way to the finish.
"The good thing is, he says he's gonna come watch me play, and I can't wait," Ochocinco says. "That might be the game where I get 500 yards. There's no doubt that I'll be back this season. It's common sense. When I'm running my mouth and I'm happy, good stuff happens.
"I didn't want to play last year; I didn't want to be there. I was forced to stay. That's behind me now. This will be a record-breaking year – I'm ready to rock and roll."
Can advice from a rock star be far behind?
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
There should be a sports writers rule that you and Peter King cannot have a vacation at the same time. I can tolerate one of you being gone, but not both. Hurry back.
Ha, another proposed rule: When Peter and I vacation together, we must remain outdoors at all times. Otherwise, there could be a dangerous shortage of oxygen.
Welcome back and nice article on the (Michael) Vick/(Bam) Morris connection! most impressive part was a lil bit of humility on your part admitting you were wrong with Bam! Also, although it's a touchy process, I think (Roger) Goodell is doing well trying to teach these guys that bad behavior will not always be rewarded.
One thing is certain: Whatever Goodell decides to do in regard to Vick, there are going to be a lot of very upset people.
Well, you fell for it again. "He seldom drinks." When I read that, I almost fell over, literally. After all that trouble with drugs and ETOH, the prison sentences coupled with the probation/parole violations, a career and money squandered on being the life of the party, you fall for the "he seldom drinks now" lie and put it in your article. Unbelievable. I'm not trying to shove the tenets or beliefs of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or even the MD's opinions on addiction, but one is too many and a thousand never enough. You can't be half pregnant … one shot and he's shot. Sounds like Mr. Bam Morris is a time bomb clicking away. He hasn't found redemption or recovery. All he will be if he's occasionally drinking is someone about to enter another chapter of stupidity, jails, institutions and possibly death. But thanks for the article. It helped me to realize I can't have one drink or drug. Believe it or not, your take on Bam will probably help a lot of other drug addicts and alcoholics out there when they read about the insidiousness of the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction. Believe me when I say, one is too many and especially for an addict like Bam Morris, like all addicts.
East Dorset, Vt.
Good luck with your situation, and I'm sincerely rooting for you, Morris and anyone else who might be trying to forge a healthier and less destructive path.
RE: Bam Morris Good piece. I hope he has turned his life around. I, like a lot of fans, probably forget these guys have lives after the game. Too bad somewhere along the way between the fudged grades and back slapping someone doesn't help these guys. I know some people try, but most don't. "What can this guy do for me?" is all their worried about. I've never been the life of the party so I don't understand that void that needs to be filled, but I'm sure whenever an NFL player comes around people want to be his friend and it's an instant party, which isn't good for people like Bam. I think TO (Terrell Owens(notes)) and Pacman (Adam Jones(notes)) ruined it for all the good guys like Brandon Marshall(notes) and Ocho (Chad Ochocinco). TO pulled the ultimate training camp management stranglehold with the Eagles, going far beyond a holdout. So to top that Marshall would have to actually hold people hostage at gunpoint or something. Of course Pacman made sure the smallest flair up in training camp would result in a suspension so even refusing to do sit-ups in your driveway will get Roger on your case. Big Al following you on Twitter, you know I don't even doubt that's really him or someone close to him doing that. He's that obsessed with idiocy. You'll probably get a head coach offer from him sometime this season.
I'd like to say that the prospect of Al Davis offering me the Raiders' head coaching job is the most absurd thing in your email, but I think I'd vote for the depiction of Brandon Marshall as a "good guy." Then again, it's possible I'm missing your sarcasm. It happens in reverse all the time …
Far be it from me to argue with the Sexiest Top Model In The World. So … you're going to give her a pass for acting like a (expletive), just because she's good-looking? Men who do that are wussies.
… Yo, Ken, want to be in my new club: Wussies Who Miss Sarcasm?
How can you write an article defending Michael Vick as a wasted talent, flash in the pan, and use only one game as your basis for this defense? I liked Vick, one of the most exiting players ever, but he isn't even close to being a great quarterback. And by the way arm strength does not make a great or even good quarterback, accuracy does, and that is something that Vick sorely lacked. Maybe he was before his time, the "Wildcat" seems more suited to his skills than a full time QB. Either of the Youngs seem more of a prototype for the QB of the future. Steve could beat you with his arm and scramble and beat you with his feet. Vince has half as many 300-yard games in half a season. Matt Ryan(notes) has as many in one full. But, these need more discussion and get away from the point I was trying to make. One game does not make a great quarterback.
The point of the article was to remind readers that, on that snowy night 6½ years ago, Vick – in the minds of his peers – was on his way to becoming a great quarterback. How he failed to fulfill that promise (so far) would take a whole week's worth of columns. That said, I don't believe he was a flash-in-the-pan. Back then, you didn't just go into Lambeau in January and carry yourself like the best quarterback on the field. That's what Vick did that night, and it wasn't a fluke.
Nice piece on Mike Vick, Silver. It has been the popular thing to throw stones at Mike the last two years because of what has gone on. It really seemed as though the sports world forgot about what he did on the field so they went to his numbers to justify him as a bust. They forget that he was a winner and personally I believe given the chance he could be so again in another year or two. And that probably scares the NFL more than if he (failed).
Ft. Campbell, Ky.
Another thing to consider: If Vick is suspended for the entire '09 season, or longer, it will give the upstart UFL an opening to sign him. That would give a competing league a ton of attention, which might not be a great business strategy for the NFL, especially with a potential lockout looming after the 2010 season.
You can write all the (expletive) you want to. Vick is a dog killer and he will never play for another NFL team!
The first statement: Definitely true. The second: Reportedly so. The third? I'm not so sure about that …
I was just wondering if Michael Vick(notes) owes you money? The way you constantly support him and actively lobby for him to be reinstated into the league makes me think you have an ulterior motive. Oh well, if nothing else, now Peter King's love fest with Brett Favre(notes) has a competitor in you with your Michael Vick infatuation.
In fairness, if Vick owed me money, I'd be at the end of a long, long line. Speaking of lost cash …
Man that sucks about Cache Creek. I know I won't be making that drive anymore. Thanks for letting us know about it. Beautiful place but that's just wrong. I guarantee you if they give you the money, they turn around and make 1,000 times that by the publicity. Instead, they will be losing customers. Not business ending but word will get around.
You'll be happy to know that the karmic scales seem to be tilting my way ever so slightly, though not in a monetary sense. (Stay tuned for details in The Gameface on Friday.)
Mike, I do have one very important question: How hot does Kris Brown's mom look?
Kansas City, Mo.
I figured someone might ask that. Hey, I may abhor "American Pie" the song, but I'm down with the movie.
That's it! I'm starting a Facebook page: "Right Wingers for Silver!" or maybe "Non-sensitive Republicans Who Like Mike" What do you think? :) Still love the columns! Go Horse!!!
I love it. That might actually inspire me to get a Facebook page of my own, which would be a huge step for an O.G. like me. I'm kind of proud of myself for having a Twitter handle and my very own channel on the even cooler site Mogotxt. I encourage all right-wingers, lefties and centrists to sign up to follow The Silver Channel ASAP. It's free.
Silver, Cal is a fine school, an excellent school, one of the best public schools in the U.S. You do not have the cojones to write the same about Stanford (leaving out the word "public" of course). Your arrogance truly knows no bounds when it comes to Cal. I actually pity you. You are like a petulant child when all you ever do is praise Cal, and you never give credit to any other schools. It is just a guess on my part, but I'm guessing that you could not make it into Stanford, and this is your pathetic attempt(s) at payback. Cal made it to No. 6 for the Director's Cup – yippee! You are obviously not from the Bay Area, because if you were, you could still be proud of Cal, but you would (if you were normal), give some credit to Stanford for its greatness, and not just because Stanford has won the Director's Cup for 15 consecutive years. It is called common decency and unbiased and fair reporting, concepts which you apparently are unaware of, or incapable of. Anyway, not that you care, but I am not going to read your articles anymore. But, I will write to you again in about a year when Stanford wins its 16th consecutive Director's Cup (if you still have a job). While it is great that you support your alma mater, did you mention that Cal Women's BB lost three players? I read your column very rarely, so I really don't know. Another guess – you did not. Did you ever stop and think that your one-sided articles reek of propaganda? While your articles are not important at all (sports, come on), your obvious bias and writing only partial truths, come across similar to dictators who controlled all media, similar to Stalin, Hitler, Mao, politicians, and too many more to mention. If you had even a modicum of self respect (but you don't, do you?), you would be much more objective when you write your articles.
I prefer to think of myself as the Leni Riefenstahl of Cal propaganda. And I'm wondering what's more unbelievable – that I'll start being "objective" when it comes to Cal and Stanford or that you'll stop reading my articles. It's a tough call.
I usually enjoy your column and your "songs" but I have to say this week's may have been in poor taste, just because it makes light of a situation where someone lost his life, even though he wasn't mentioned. I am completely on the opposite side when it comes to your views on Vick's crime vs. (Donte') Stallworth's. While a man's life may be more important than a dog's life, intent really does make a difference. The criminal justice system is structured to recognize intent, that's why there are different degrees of manslaughter and murder. I realize that 30 days does not seem like a valid sentence for a lost life, but I would be interested to know what the average jail term for a similar offense is when the driver of the car is just some normal guy that nobody ever heard of? Is it that much more? You also neglect the other provisions of Stallworth's sentence. There's probation, drug and alcohol testing, the fact he can never legally drive a car again, etc. If the family of the victim felt that this was a satisfactory punishment, then surely that is fair. What is unfair is using Vick's crime and subsequent punishment as a measuring stick for every other NFL players transgression. Please remember that Vick broke the law and was sentenced based on the legal guidelines for what he did, and so was Stallworth. I have a feeling that Vick's only remorse for what he's done is the fact he was caught, whereas Stallworth has to live with the fact he took a man's life forever.
I would argue that one major reason the victim's family felt the punishment was satisfactory was a large financial settlement – and I absolutely don't buy the argument that a legally intoxicated person who gets behind the wheel of a car and kills or injures an innocent human has done so accidentally. Stallworth's intent was to flout a law designed to protect citizens from potentially horrible (and avoidable) circumstances, and he should be punished for it. In my opinion, he got off easy.
Just wanted to drop a line about Mr. (Rich) Behm. I've written in a couple times under the moniker "the crippled stoner" and it's always in jest. But as a T-12 paraplegic, I have a very clear insight of the challenges Mr. Behm will face going forward. The fact that JJones "tears up" at the mention makes me like him and possibly the whole Cowboys organization a little bit more. And I've always been a cowgirl hater. When people read stories about tragedies like the bubble collapse and the people affected, it's easy to pass on the assumption that "well, it's OK because nobody died" but it is never quite that simple. My accident didn't make any national headlines, I simply passed out in a friend's truck and he chose to try to drive after a night of heavy drinking. And then Stallworth goes and kills a man after drinking and driving and gets 30 days in jail and people say that's OK, he showed some remorse, and the family chose to be "bought off." But both drinking and driving, and the bubble collapse, and all the other tragedies (see: Leonard Little(notes)) are so easy for the casual reader to skim through and then forget, when sometimes it affects some people for the rest of their lives. I just wish there was a way to prevent the idiocy, especially among the rich and privileged athletes of our generation. When I read that Jerry Jones will probably take care of Mr. Behm both personally and professionally for life, it just re-enforces the fact that football is a game, and life is bigger than the game. I'm glad Mister Jones recognizes that fact, and I hope he does right by the Behm family, minus the need for any kind of lawsuit. If only I was so lucky … A huge fan of your writing, and as always for life … "the crippled stoner."
I'm a huge fan of "the crippled stoner," because he just made these points a lot more poignantly than I ever could. Thanks for your perspective, and your sense of humor.