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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Johnson adjusting the volume
The flashy Bengals receiver's numbers are down this season, so he has toned down his act.
By JOANNE KORTH
Published October 14, 2006
Receiver Chad Johnson's statistics are down this season. So are his postage expenses.
Johnson, who once sent a care package of Pepto-Bismol to Cleveland defensive backs to soothe their upset stomachs, had no such special delivery for the Bucs this week. He even declined to talk trash to the defensive backs.
"Tell Jermaine Phillips I said ... nothing, never mind," Johnson said.
Why all the humility?
It's a matter of timing. Unlike some receivers who grow louder as their statistics grow smaller, Johnson waits for the proper moment. He wants his play to justify his playfulness.
Despite being classified as one of the NFL's diva wide receivers, Johnson purposely avoids anything that could be construed as destructive behavior. Sure, he's a narcissist, but in a cuddly kind of way.
"No, I'm not a diva, man," he said.
Johnson's antics incite laughter, not anger. He is refreshing and fun, not fingernails on a chalkboard.
In addition to the Pepto delivery, Johnson has made headlines for sporting a hideous blond Mohawk, calling out volatile Steelers linebacker Joey Porter the week the AFC North rivals played, and keeping a list in his locker each season titled "Who covered No. 85."
Two weeks ago, he even coaxed stodgy Patriots coach Bill Belichick into some playful verbal sparring.
"Tell him we'd cover him one-on-one all the time, but he pushes off more than any receiver in the league," said Belichick, actually grinning. "He must be paying the officials not to call it, so we're going to have to double cover him some. ... Not that he can get open."
Last season, Johnson's choreographed touchdown celebrations became must-see TV, including a darn-good heel-kicking rendition of Riverdance, dropping to one knee to propose to a cheerleader and using the end zone pylon to putt the football.
"I think ultimately, Chad's No. 1 thing is that we win football games," coach Marvin Lewis said. "As long as that is the case, he's going to be okay and people are not going to get so hung up on anything else. He means well by the things he does. He doesn't mean to be cutting. But he does like to talk about it and have fun doing it."
So far in 2006, it's not the NFL's new rule cracking down on celebrations that has Johnson out of sorts. It's the fact he has only one touchdown in four games.
One measly chicken dance.
In fact, all Johnson's numbers are down compared with last season, when he led the AFC in catches and yards, 97 for 1,432. He leads the team with 18 receptions, but for only 201 yards. Known for long receptions, his longest is 18 yards. Opponents are double- and triple-teaming him, refusing to let 6-foot-1, 192-pound Johnson beat them.
The good news for the Bengals (4-1) is quarterback Carson Palmer, running back Rudi Johnson and receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh have more than picked up the slack.
Meanwhile, Johnson stays silent.
The sixth-year pro learned his lesson at halftime of Cincinnati's playoff loss to Pittsburgh last season, when he complained loudly about not getting the ball enough. Coaches spoke to him during the offseason about how to be a help, not a hindrance, when things go poorly.
"What it's basically done is really show my maturity coming back from the playoff game when I was down to one catch at halftime and I was mad," Johnson said. "I was ranting and raving because I wanted to help contribute and I knew what I could bring to the table as far as helping us win. It really doesn't help me or my teammates when I do those things. My ranting and raving now comes at 3 or 4 in the morning on Tuesdays when I'm sitting upstairs with my coaches and we're making the game plan. I do it in a different way."
Away from cameras.
"I have to, because they'll kill me," Johnson said. "Everything about Chad has always been positive. Always. Except the one incident in Pittsburgh last year at halftime. I try to keep that within the walls of this organization and always let the perception and image of Chad always be something positive."
Johnson, the 28-year-old Miami native who will have many fans in the stands at Raymond James Stadium, likely will see the single coverage he covets on Sunday. Typically, the Bucs do not alter their defensive scheme for one player.
"There's only been a couple guys we've changed coverages for," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "He has been seeing a lot of double teams this year because he is a dynamic player. He can turn a pass into a touchdown and nobody wants to see him celebrate in their end zone."
Johnson is confident his time to make plays will come soon enough.
"It will pick up. I'm sure it will," he said. "The cream always rises to the top."
Until then, he will resist the urge to swing by the post office.
"Nah, not yet," he said. "I've got to get myself rolling before I start having fun like that. I haven't been consistent enough to really get into the antics."