"I'm just really focused on going out there and having some fun, looking to be embraced by the Packer fans and hopefully I can Lambeau Leap," Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco said in a conference call with Packers beat writers on Wednesday morning.
Really? A Lambeau Leap? Maybe Ochocinco doesn't recall the Vikings' Fred Smoot receiving a forearm that knocked him to the Frozen Tundra when Smoot had a pick-six against Brett Favre and tried a Lambeau Leap in December 2006.
"Yeah, it's no disrespect, especially coming from me," Ochocinco said. "You know how I am. I'm going to go out there and have fun. I enjoy the Dawg Pound (in Cleveland) when I jump in there. They embrace me. I'm looking for the Cheeseheads to embrace Ocho also."
Told of Ochocinco's plans, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said that sometimes it's better to "underpromise and overproduce." Last year, Lewis might have been annoyed by such bluster. Today, Lewis and Ochocinco say they are back on the same page. Johnson, who had averaged a whopping 1,339 receiving yards from 2002 through 2007 with 48 touchdowns during those six seasons, plummeted to 53 receptions for 540 yards and four touchdowns in 2008.
Some of that was the loss of star quarterback Carson Palmer, who played in only four games last year with a partially torn ligament and tendon in his throwing elbow. Some of that were his own medical problems while being limited to 10 starts with shoulder and ankle injuries. Much of Ochocinco's decline, however, can be rooted in his own self-produced sideshow. He changed his name from Chad Johnson, wanted to be traded and, fairly or not, seemed too preoccupied crafting post-touchdown shenanigans to actually do his job.
That all changed in May.
"He was in California working out and we had a talk on the phone and, the next thing you know, he was standing here in my office three days later," Lewis recalled. "I don't know what turned it or whatever, but it turned and it was a good thing and he's not looked back since."
Lewis said he's had a "lot of heart-to-heart" talks with Ochocinco over the years. Whatever the magic words were this time, Lewis is happy that the Johnson who tore up NFL defenses for those six seasons apparently has returned. Ochocinco caught five passes for 89 yards in last week's 12-7 loss to Denver.
Chad Ochocinco makes a catch against Brian Dawkins last week. Scott Boehm/Getty Images
"I've been excited and pleased that the guy that we first knew around here when I came here has been back, and he's kind of let some of the things that were probably distracting him kind of go by the wayside, which is a good thing," Lewis said. "He's a guy that got a rare, rare opportunity to make it here in the NFL from where he started. He was really taking full advantage of that and kind of got sideways. I'm glad to see that he's really worked hard both physically and mentally to regain where he was. Now, you've got to have success as a football team, or else nobody really cares what you do."
Considering the Bengals have gone from 11 wins in 2005 to eight in 2006 to seven in 2007 to four in 2008, a lot of people care about Ochocinco. His antics are why NFL Films and HBO showed up to chronicle the Bengals' training camp for "Hard Knocks." His Twitter account is followed by more than 170,000 people, which ranks 348th. That's only six notches behind President Obama's news account, which has more than 172,000 followers, and more than 25,000 followers ahead of 367th-ranked Sarah Palin. Poor Nick Barnett, for the record, ranks 5,017th with merely 17,100 followers.
And what are those people reading? Gems like Ochocinco wondering if forgetting to bring his cell phone charger is the equivalent to misplacing his car keys, or telling his fans that he's headed from the hot tub to the cold tub.
It's good stuff.
"Those people follow me because I'm very interesting, very different from the rest of the individuals that play this game," he said. "You just never know what I'm going to say, you never know what I'm going to do next. The (170,000) really have a heads up on what's going to happen before the rest of the world. It's pretty interesting."
Whether you consider Ochocinco amusing and a breath of fresh air in the No Fun League or you consider him an egotistical, selfish self-promoter, there is one thing he'd like to clear up.
"You know it's not accurate," Ochocinco said when asked if he's a troublemaker. "I've never been in trouble a day in my life. I took a candy bar when I was 9 years old. That's about it. Since then, everything about me, everything I've done has been about ridiculously hard work -- ridiculously hard work and going out there and having fun. That's one of the things I like about ‘Hard Knocks.' ‘Hard Knocks' exactly shows people the work that gets put in before I open my mouth, because I work ridiculously. If you can find another receiver that works as hard as me -- for those who know me around the NFL, they'll tell you nobody works as hard as I do. The world never gets to see that part. They just see the fun part, but it goes hand in hand."
On Wednesday, Johnson was equal parts humorous and combative.
He asked reporters to tell Barnett that he's "coming for his head." He laughed and called it "funny" that a Bengals fan jumped out of the stands and stole the ball from Favre late in the teams' 2005 game at Cincinnati. Asked if he expects to face Charles Woodson, Al Harris or both, Ochocinco said: "They're all going to get the same treatment, which is a blessing. That's the reason games are played on Sunday. They're going to miss church, so I will gladly bless them throughout the entire four quarters."
Later in the interview, however, he was asked whether he's getting extra attention from defenses after sidekick T.J. Houshmandzadeh signed with Seattle in the offseason. Ochocinco seemed insulted at the suggestion that he hasn't always been the target of defensive game plans.
"Am I some surprise or something? I'm no surprise," he said. "I'm the same Chad that's been here since 2001. I get attention regardless because I talk trash and I go out there and back it up. The individual on the other side doesn't matter.
"I'm always getting doubled. Always."