FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Chad Ochocinco is going to the Super Bowl again, and this time he will be in uniform, answering questions, instead of causing a commotion by asking them.
He might even get on the field.
The Patriots receiver is returning to the NFL’s title game, changed but not chastened since his time as a spotlight-seeking superstar who crashed the big party two years running as the lead correspondent for the “Ochocinco News Network.” After a decade of losing in Cincinnati — and having too much fun doing it — Ochocinco swallowed his considerable ego to fit in better in New England, a franchise that likes its players boring.
The payoff: a trip to the Super Bowl for a player who had never won a postseason game.
“It’s been a learning experience; that’s what this has been. This had been one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever been in,” he said Thursday as he prepared for the Feb. 5 game against the New York Giants. “This is one of the first times I’ve been about doing exactly what everyone told me to do. It wasn’t about the numbers. It wasn’t about money. It wasn’t about me.”
Does he regret the trade-off?
“No!” he said with an expletive and a smile, “because I’ve done the other thing over and over.”
“I’m happy, but the competitive side of me is (angry),” he said. “Does that make sense?”
Little about Ochocinco’s time in New England does.
A six-time Pro Bowl selection who had more than 1,000 yards receiving in a seven-year span, Ochocinco was acquired by the Patriots over the summer for an undisclosed draft pick. It was a low-risk move for New England coach Bill Belichick, the kind that paid off for him when Randy Moss caught a record-setting 23 touchdowns in the 16-0 regular season of 2007.
“It didn’t happen that way,” Ochocinco said. “I think God did not want it that way. I think he put me to the test.”
Ochocinco has struggled to find a place in the offense, catching just 15 passes for 276 yards and one touchdown this season — all career lows. During the playoffs, he has been even more invisible: He was on the field for just one play in the divisional playoff against Denver; last week, after missing practice to be at his father’s funeral, he was on the inactive list for the game.
“I handled myself with the utmost professionalism,” Ochocinco said. “I busted my (butt), didn’t pout — that’s what I do: ‘Give me the rock!’ But I didn’t do what people thought I would do. Even I thought I was going to do it.”
If anything good can be said about Ochocinco’s contributions this year, it’s that he wasn’t as bad as defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, New England’s other big-name reclamation project. A two-time Pro Bowl selection with Tennessee, Haynesworth was a bust with the Redskins and again with the Patriots before they cut him in November.
But even as he left him to stew on the sidelines, Belichick had no complaints about Ochocinco.
“Chad has worked hard,” the coach said. “He’s made a very good effort to do everything we’ve asked him to do on and off the field.”
His teammates also commended his hard work.
“He’s a good teammate. You can’t complain about anything. You can’t argue,” running back Kevin Faulk said. “He’s at work every day unless it’s a situation, family matters or whatever happened last week. But he’s at work every day having fun. He’s a professional. You’ve got to handle it well.”
During his 10 seasons in Cincinnati, the receiver did everything he could to get his name in the headlines — whether it was his original name, Chad Johnson, or the one he legally adopted as a Spanish shout-out to his uniform No. 85. He predicted victories, trashed opponents, made lists of cornerbacks who failed to stop him, sent gifts to opposing locker rooms and invited fans to help him think up new end zone antics.
His touchdown celebrations — using a pylon as a golf club, performing CPR on the football, doing a jig, donning a Hall of Fame jacket — led to repeated fines and an NFL crackdown. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis grew so frustrated that he once called him “Ocho Psycho,” but the receiver couldn’t tone it down.
Nor did he want to.
“I cannot perform at a high level and not be Chad. It’s impossible,” he said during the 2007 season. “I cannot and will not change.”
And it wasn’t just on the field: Ochocinco was a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars” and hosted a cable dating show; when the Bengals signed friend Terrell Owens in 2010, the duo dubbed themselves “Batman and Robin” and co-starred in the weekly “TOcho Show” on a cable network.
Under the guise of the online Ochocinco News Network, he has attended the Super Bowl as a reporter the past two years, asking questions of the teams during media sessions and even grilling commissioner Roger Goodell last year on the prospects of avoiding a lockout. It was Ochocinco’s only chance to see the big game: With their duo of divas, the Bengals lost 10 straight games and finished 4-12; Owens left the Bengals as a free agent, and Ochocinco was traded to New England.
They were not missed.
“Sometimes stars are born from y’all, not necessarily success on the football field,” Cincinnati tackle Andrew Whitworth told reporters this season. “Some guys run their mouths a lot or say a lot of things so they get a lot of attention. It doesn’t mean they always play football the way it is supposed to be played.”
But Ochocinco gave it all up to fit in with the Patriots.
Well, maybe not all of it.
Ochocinco found a new outlet for his attention-seeking that is largely beyond the league’s control: Twitter. With 3.1 million followers and 32,000 tweets, he has embraced the social network and is one of its most active athletes.
“This is the whole point of Twitter, which is good for me,” he said at his locker in the Patriots stadium on Thursday. “The mainstream media, they had control of my image, telling people what I’m about. Twitter allows me to take back that control. It cuts out the middleman and lets me show who I really am.”
While watching President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Ochocinco began tweeting about the “guy over Obama’s left shoulder (who) doesn’t seem very happy.” It was John Boehner, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who responded and made plans for a meet up with Ochocinco after the Patriots’ season is over.
“For him to contact me back, it’s awesome,” said Ochocinco, who was intrigued to hear that Boehner is second in the presidential line of succession, after the vice president. “He’s a pretty powerful man, then. … Me and the president of Mexico tweet back all the time. That’s two powerful people.”