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Friday, July 30, 2010

T.O. and Ochocinco: Match Made in Hell

By Jay Mariotti

Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten come to mind. Ren and Stimpy, too. Otherwise, I can't think of a more nonsensical and dangerous convergence of megalomania than the pairing of Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. Someone must have spiked the chili in Cincinnati with stupid juice, because suddenly, the concept of winning games and playing with dignity is about to be lost in the blur of these mad men trying to one-up each other.

It will be comical enough watching them demand the football, leaving one to pout when the other guy is getting more touches or the other to mope when he isn't catching the winning touchdown pass. But if we've learned anything through the years from these hopeless attention hogs, it's that they're entertainers first who inevitably will vie to have the most Twitter followers, pull off the more discussed end-zone stunts and, frighteningly enough, attract the higher ratings in their back-to-back reality shows on VH1.

Right now, it's shocking anyone is tuning in. One is the star of a dating show called "Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch,'' in which he is known to run off lady contestants who aren't up to his standards. Immediately afterward comes "The T.O. Show,'' where the star last was seen walking bare-chested down a runway with a wig and an enormous necklace. Ochocinco appeared recently on "Dancing With The Stars.'' Owens once appeared in a racy pregame skit in which Nicollette Sheridan, of "Desperate Housewives,'' tried to convince him in the locker room to skip a game by dropping her towel and leaving her naked, prompting T.O. to take her in his arms and say, "Aw, hell, the team's going to have to win without me.''

They've always competed for airtime from afar. Now, they're on the same team, the Bengals, in a small town that may blow up from the massive ego exhaust. At the moment, Owens and Ochocinco are in love with the idea, trading cyber-bouquets Tuesday evening after Owens agreed to a lowballish two-year, $2 million contract with a potential $2 million more in incentives. Ochocinco called the pair "Batman and Robin'' on Twitter, though not identifying who had the lead role of Batman, adding, "All of our games have been moved to pay-per-view, you got to pay to see this."

Not to be outdone, Owens responded on his own Twitter feed. "Ocho Uno is coming 2 town!!'' he said, referring to his uniform number, 81. "Hey Robin, Batman will b there soon!"

There it is, the first controversy. T.O. is referring to Ochocinco as Robin and himself as Batman, even though Owens is 36, well past his prime, still dropping too many balls and coming off an unproductive season in Buffalo. Ochocinco, once known as Chad Johnson, is four years younger and back in form after a 1,000-yard receiving season. Actually, if anyone is Batman, it might be Antonio Bryant, the most explosive receiver of the three. T.O. should just quiet down and be happy he finally landed a job on the eve of training camp.

It's a risky step for a franchise that needed years to live down a rap-sheet identity. The Bengals made the playoffs last year, saving Marvin Lewis' job. But owner Mike Brown, an understated man known for wearing preppy 1970s hats and penny-pinching, has an odd way of taking gambles on troubled players. The Cedric Benson experiment worked on the field, but police in Austin, Texas -- a town he really should avoid, given all his problems there -- say he punched a bartender on June 29. Larry Johnson and Matt Jones also have been thrown parachutes by Brown, who decided to add another in Owens after quarterback Carson Palmer wholeheartedly endorsed the signing.

"Yes, people can make mistakes," said Brown, son of legendary coach Paul Brown. "It doesn't mean that they go on the rest of their lives making mistakes. They can get their ship pointed in the right direction. This is a 36-year-old man. He's been through a lot. He's proven as a player and as a person."

Not often has Owens been described as a man. A baby, yes. A nut ball, yes. A drama queen, yes. A quarterback-killer, certainly. Just as he wore out Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo and Jeff Garcia, there's a chance he could rip away at Palmer, especially if Bryant and Ochocinco get the ball more in a passing offense that ranked a weak 26th last season. T.O. always starts well in a new city, then always wears out his welcome. In a recent interview, he found himself on the defensive and blaming, of all targets, ESPN for his negative image.

"The teams I've been on, if you ask in that locker room how I've been as a teammate and as a person, it's contradictory to what's been displayed out there,'' Owens said. "I've never been in any trouble. I know right from wrong. I try to make the right choices and judgments when I'm out in the public.

"It's not like I can't play. There is some type of influence that they're making in the minds of teams and owners and GMs. I feel like I have enough talent to be a starter on any team. That's what's so frustrating."

So all those media rants and sideline tantrums? Those episodes had nothing to do with T.O.? "People have listened to a lot of the commentaries throughout a lot of the media outlets, mainly ESPN, that has my character in question as far as things that have happened in the past," Owens told a Nashville radio station. "I may do 99 good things right, and if I do one thing wrong, ESPN and the people on there ... make it out to be the worst thing ever. I think with the years that I've had, the last three to four years, I feel like I've tried to turn over a new leaf. But still, they won't let go of what I did in the past."

It's hard to let go, knowing the monster could lash out at any time. If there's a chance the tandem could work, it's because Ochocinco is the more lighthearted guy. Still, both want the ball, both want the camera and both want to be The Man. Our prayers go out to Palmer and Lewis, who have to play ego cop.

Never has a team dared to have two diva receivers on the same roster. It's an amazing species, the problem-child wide receiver, in that another emerges every few seasons with the same knack for controversy. Taking lessons from Owens is rookie Dez Bryant, who has courted his share of controversy since his Oklahoma State days. He seemingly had dumped his baggage by becoming the first No. 1 draft pick to sign a contract while showing a great attitude in his opening workouts with the Dallas Cowboys. But Bryant blew it the other day by refusing to follow football tradition and carry the shoulder pads of Roy Williams, the veteran receiver he's trying to beat out for a starting position.

When every Hall of Famer has paid his dues as a rookie, who is Dez Bryant to shun a ritual? "I'm not doing it. I feel like I was drafted to play football, not to carry another player's pads,'' he explained the day it happened. "If I was a free agent, it would still be the same thing. I just feel like I'm here to play football. I'm here to try to help win a championship, not carry someone's pads. I'm saying that out of no disrespect to [anyone]."
Both want the ball, both want the camera and both want to be The Man. Our prayers go out to Palmer and Lewis, who have to play ego cop.

Said Williams: "Everybody has to go through it. I had to go through it. No matter if you're a No. 1 pick or the 7,000th pick, you've still got to do something when you're a rookie. I carried pads. I paid for dinners. I paid for lunches. I did everything I was supposed to do, because I didn't want to be that guy."

Bryant is That Guy, creating negative headlines for a franchise that is trying to reach a Super Bowl being played in its hometown and doesn't need another year of non-stop soap operas. After some time to think, he said Tuesday that he wasn't aware of the rookie rituals. "I didn't know nothing about no tradition," Bryant said. "The only thing about me ... when I try to do something right, y'all try and turn it negative and I don't feel like that's right. I'm trying my best to do the right thing but it seems like I can't do the right thing because every little thing that I do y'all watching it and try to make a big deal out of it."

Yep, blame the media. That's what T.O. does. That's what Dez does. Of Williams, Bryant now says, "I told Roy this: he could have walked in with his tights on. I would have took his shoulder pads, his pants, his helmet, his socks, his shoes. I would have took everything. But you know what, that's not even an issue."

If Bryant performs well, keeps making his spectacular catches and helps the Cowboys advance far in the playoffs, all will be forgotten. Miles Austin is a terrific receiver who catches the ball ... and, apparently, Kim Kardashian. Jason Witten is an elite tight end. The running game is excellent. Romo is primed to have his finest season and went so far to tell Cowboys fans at a training-camp kickoff function. "We'll see you at the Super Bowl in Dallas.'' But it would be nice to have a second wideout better than Williams. "I bought a Ford F-250 2011. Everybody loves a new car, but I also have a 2004 Navigator that's still running," Williams said of the rampant Dez love.

In the end, he shook off the episode, surely with prodding from owner Jerry Jones and coach Wade Phillips. "If he doesn't want to take the pads, he doesn't have to take the pads," Williams said. "It's not a big deal. We'll just move on. We talked about it. He wants to concentrate on football. We're going to let him concentrate on football.''

Said Phillips, who somehow is still the head coach of this potential NFC force: "I don't believe that you need to initiate anybody. They need to come out and play football and be a part of the team. It's really a non-issue. It's not a problem for either of them or our football team. I'd like to cut it off now and say we're not going to talk about it, but that's not the case for the Dallas Cowboys."

Such is the power and the tragicomedy of the diva receiver. The Cincinnati Bengals now have the two of the biggest and loudest of the species.

Heaven help them.


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