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Ochocinco still an enigma

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Hub Arkush

harkush@pfwmedia.com
Publisher and editor

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By Hub Arkush

Media Day at the Super Bowl is more circus than journalistic endeavor, and I'm guessing most fans understand that by now after reading media reports on it for the last few years. How players feel about it spans a wide range of emotions and feelings from those who really enjoy it to those who dread it, with a great majority of players falling somewhere in between. But is there one among us who wouldn't assume it would be a dream come true for No. 85 on the New England Patriots, one Chad Ochocinco, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals and once known as Chad Johnson?

Media Day is set up with 12-15 of the more significant or in-demand players of each team each given his own podium/riser, a few more set up in designated areas of the stands, and the rest of the club's players left to mingle or circulate among the media and speak, if spoken to. At the Wednesday and Thursday media-only sessions, the key guys again have their own risers, or at least their own table in a crowded interview room, while the rest are asked to share space — two, three or even four at a 10-top table — with no concern there won't be enough room for writers interested in talking to them. For purposes of this piece, let's call them the "other guys," and who would have ever thought Ochocinco could be one of the "other guys" and actually wear his mantle well?

Tuesday's Media Day at Super Bowl XLVI had just begun, and I went off in search of Ochocinco, assuming I'd find him where the action was, in spite of the fact he's clearly been one of the "other guys" in terms of production for the Pats this season. After all, the "Ochocinco News Network" was there in full force with big-name players like Maurice Jones-Drew, Von Miller and Gerald McCoy each moving about with videographer and producer in tow, reporting for OCNN. But because of his performance this year, and certainly in light of his role as another veteran player now practicing the "Patriot Way," Ochocinco didn't have his own podium and, in fact, was somewhat difficult to find.

After a relatively brief search, I spotted a player in profile with a Super Bowl XLVI hat low over his eyes, speaking to maybe four or five reporters in the midst of a swirling crowd. As I got close, I could still barely hear the player speaking, so I assumed my search would continue. But as I swung around and was able to see his face, I realized it was, in fact, No. 85, and that apparently a new kind of humble has been born in Foxborough, Mass.

Still, he is Ochocinco, and I found his explanation of how he's accepted the "Patriot Way" unique, as only No. 85 could put it. "He (God) did this for a reason. Let me tell you what's happened. I'm in New England, and when you're in New England, you think of the elite of the elite when it comes to the NFL. Now, if God put me in this situation and he puts me through this test and I act up on the biggest stage of them all with the elite of the elite, what comes after that? Where am I going after that? He already put me here, so there isn't any sense in going back. I'm just seeing this in a whole different light than anyone else is."

I can't think of anyone I respect who ever suggested that Ochocinco is stupid. But has he been humbled by his 15-276, 18.7, one-TD season, in which he didn't have a single game with more than two receptions and had five games in which he didn't catch a single ball? "You know how I got here? I came from Dade County (Fla.), this place called Liberty City where the odds were against me all through my life growing up. You think I'm going to complain after all I've been through to get to this point?"

No, I think Ochocinco is too smart to complain, and again, there's the "Patriot Way." Yet, he sure doesn't sound like a guy who's been humbled at all. He's just speaking a bit more quietly.

I tried — I swear I did — but to be honest, I can't really figure out how much, if at all, the guy has changed. Asked if he'd rather have had a 100-catch season than be preparing to play in a Super Bowl, he said, "I'd rather be right here! I've already put up all the numbers. I've already done that. One of the things that I was really happy about was that this is one of the few times, or really the only time, that I wasn't home for the Martin Luther King parade. I'm always home the first week in January. This is so much bigger than what everybody else is thinking about. They're thinking about individuals. If I had thought like that, I would have been cut Week Three, complaining about the ball. This has been a joy."

I confess, I've always liked Ochocinco, and I'm a real old stick-in-the-mud who normally can't stand "Hey, look at me" players. But with him I've always had the feeling it was more about having fun and being his own man than simply ego. Tell me this: Who has Ochocinco ever hurt, and when have his antics ever come at the expense of his teammates?

Some believe Ochocinco may not even get to suit up Sunday, a casualty of his own lack of production and contributions to special teams. But something tells me that not only will he be in pads and Patriot red, white and blue, but with Rob Gronkowski likely somewhat limited at best, I've got the feeling Ochocinco could be the vehicle for one or more of those Belichickian specials we've come to expect and that he could find himself back in the spotlight.

What will he do if he scores in the Super Bowl? "Normally, everybody knows I have crazy celebrations that I do all the time. I've been kind of quiet on celebrations and production this year, so if I score this Sunday, I might do something. It is the biggest stage there is."

So, is Ochocinco simply over the hill, a victim of circumstances, a party waiting to happen or just a new, more mellow and controlled media mogul on a mission? I'm pulling for the party, because from my limited exposure I don't know if it could happen to a nicer or more entertaining guy. And you have to admit, can you think of a less holy trinity than Belichick, Brady and Ochocinco heading off to Disney World, Lombardi Trophy in tow?

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