Chad Johnson was born January 9, 1978 in Miami, Florida. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) He legally changed his last name to Ochocinco in August of 2008. In January of 2011, he said he was going back to Johnson.
Chad’s father’s name was Sam, but he did not know his dad at all. His mother, Paula Johnson, was not a consistent figure in his life either. For most of his childhood, he was raised by his Paula’s parents, Bessie and James Flowers. Paula lived a few blocks away but was in no position to look after the boy. He called Bessie "Mama" and still does today.
As a kid, Chad developed a healthy appetite for sports—but he had no interest in schoolwork and possessed zero attention span and almost no impulse control. He crashed the family car at age 10 and defended his actions by saying he was taking it to the carwash.
Outside the Flowers home, Chad was surrounded by the influences of the street, namely drinking, smoking and stealing. Thanks to Bessie and James, however, he developed a sense of where to draw the line.
Football was the way out for Chad, and he knew it. Two of Chad's cousins, future NFL stars Keyshawn Johnson and Samari Rolle, showed him it could be done. Once Chad set his sights on an NFL career, there was no stopping him. And there was no Plan B.
Chad loved the NFL and rooted for the Miami Dolphins. Mark Clayton and Mark Duper—Dan Marino's "Marks Brothers"—were his favorite players. He followed Keyshawn’s career on the West Coast as well.
On many afternoons, Chad could be found at a nearby field playing pickup games with Samari and Duane Starks and Terry Cousin, both of whom would also go on to NFL careers. Another boy he played with was Sam Brown Jr. Chad didn’t know it at the time, but he and Sam were half-brothers. He later discovered that he had a half-sister, Chinita.
Chad started his prep career at Coral Gables High School. But after low grades got him bounced from there, he enrolled at Miami Beach High School. He made the varsity football team as a frosh and played receiver, quarterback, punter. Chad also handled snaps on extra points. His grandfather attended every game.
Chad was one of the team’s best players by his sophomore year. In the playoffs that fall, he took the field and did not see the familiar face of James Flowers. His grandpa had been shot and killed the night before. Chad did not find out until after the game. The thought of Bessie alone and destitute was a big wake-up call. Chad vowed to fill this void. He was now totally focused on making it to the NFL.
Making it to class was another matter. Chad did not see a connection between success on the field and even a minimal academic effort. He regularly cut classes and was always behind in his schoolwork. It didn’t help that many of his teachers gave him a pass. As so often happens with young athletes, the favor they thought they were doing for him would later turn out to be a curse.
Chad got his high school degree by the skin of his teeth. Although he was recruited by top programs, including Miami and Florida State, he didn’t have the grades to get in to virtually any school. In fact, he had to take night classes the summer after his senior year just to graduate. With his college options severely limited, he ended up at Langston University, an NAIA school in Oklahoma with a decent football squad.
Chad reported to the Langston campus in the late summer of 1996. That was pretty much the last time he was seen in an academic building. A no-show in the classroom, he was eventually kicked out of school for fighting. Chad made the mistake of assuming that college would be like high school—the teachers would just move him along for the good of the team.
Bessie, a former teacher and counselor in the Miami school system, knew Chad was headed nowhere—and fast. She told him that he had to go to school and suggested he live with his mother in Los Angeles and attend Santa Monica College, which had a good football program. Chad joined the Corsairs in 1997 and played beside Steve Smith, a future All-Pro receiver who was flying under the college football radar, too. (The two remain close friends to this day. Smith calls Chad “The Entertainer.") Also on the squad was Eugene Sykes, who later found a home in the Arena Football League. Whenever a Corsair scored, a touchdown dance would follow.
While it seemed he was on the right path, Chad took another giant step backward when he came up a credit short and had to miss the 1998 season. At a low point, he started to think that the stars were aligned against him. Once again, Bessie intervened. She told Chad to get his grades back in shape and play football for Santa Monica again in 1999. Finally, he was starting to understand the connection between school and football.
ON THE RISE
Just as Bessie instructed, Chad returned to the gridiron and had a nice year for the Corsairs. The biggest improvement came in his route-running. More precise and more disciplined, he also became more explosive out of his break. In two seasons at Santa Monica, Chad reeled in 120 passed for 23 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards.
Chad’s greatest accomplishment in his Junior College years was connecting with receivers coach Charlie Collins. It was Collins who became a surrogate father to Chad, pushing him back into the classroom after he had been declared academically ineligible the year before. Chad continued to work with Collins in the summers at his Phenom Camp for receivers. There he got to go head-to-head with future NFL defenders like Ricky Manning. Chad credits Collins with much of the success he has today.
West Coast scouts drew a bead on Chad, and he talked to a number of schools, including UCLA, USC, San Diego State, Hawaii and Oregon State. Some were sacred off after a domestic incident with a girlfriend cost him 30 days of community service. With a big black mark on his record, Chad chose the Beavers because of coach Dennis Erickson, whom he greatly admired and respected. Collins gave Erickson his assurances that Chad was a good kid who was getting his act together.
Still 18 credits short of OSU's academic requirements, Chad had to crack the books and increase his course load in order to qualify for a four-year college. He had to skip spring practice with the Beavers and didn’t actually join the team until three weeks before the 2001 season started.
In his first taste of the big time, Chad blossomed into a star. He began the year buried on the depth chart, but by the fourth week he had the plays down and became a difference-maker on the field. Chad gave a lot of credit to teammate Dennis Weathersby, a cornerback who covered him in practice. Weathersby was one of the best in the Pac-10, and he did not hold back in practice.
Chad also benefited from playing with fellow wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a future teammate in the NFL. They roomed together for road games, and the pony-tailed wideout flashed Chad hand signals from across the field in the early going so Chad knew what the plays were.
Chad finished the '01 campaign with 37 receptions for 806 yards and eight touchdowns. His highlight-reel moment was a 97-yard touchdown catch and run against Stanford. The play that got NFL scouts excited, however, came against Syracuse and superstar corner Will Allen. With the ball in the air and both men running all out, Chad put on an explosive burst that left Allen in the dust. One scout crowed that Chad might surprise everyone and be the #1 pick in the 2001 draft.
The Beavers finished the year with just one loss, an overtime defeat to Washington. They went to the Fiesta Bowl and beat Notre Dame to end up at 11–1 and #4 in the nation.
Chad later played in the Senior Bowl and caught seven passes for 93 yards. No one on the field had a prayer of covering him. Now a blue chip prospect, Chad chose to enter the NFL draft, even though he had a year of college eligibility remaining.
Unfortunately, the hype that Chad created faded during the combines. He ran a slow 40-yard dash and moped through other drills. As Chad watched the draft unfold, he grew concerned when the first round passed and his name had not been called. He was eventually picked #36 by the Bengals early in the second round. His biggest fan in the Cincinnati war room was offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. He was thrilled later in the draft when the Bengals also took Houshmandzadeh.
Chad joined a team that was in the midst of a tailspin. The Bengals had failed to record a five-win season in three years. Jon Kitna was a capable quarterback and Corey Dillon a dangerous ground gainer, but the team was paper thin at almost every other position. Chad saw mostly bench time in September, catching his first two NFL passes and scoring his first touchdown against the San Diego Chargers on September 30. Two weeks later against the Cleveland Browns, he fractured his collarbone after making a catch and spent a month on injured reserve.
Chad returned before the season ended and wound up with decent numbers, 28 catches for 329 yards. The Bengals improved somewhat to 6–10, and they found they had a potential difference-maker in Chad. Opponents had to account for his whereabouts at all times. He was capable of forcing defenses into bad matchups. In the final game against the Tennessee Titans, Chad drew an interference call against Michael Booker that set up Cincinnati’s game-winning field goal.
Chad started his second NFL season on the bench but forced his way into the starting lineup by Week 3. From that point on, he was money in the bank. Chad surpassed 1,000 yards and led the Bengals with 69 catches and 16.9 yards per reception. By season’s end, he had established himself as a go-to guy and a premium deep-threat receiver. Chad had a November to remember, smoking the Baltimore Ravens, Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers for consecutive 100-yard games. In the contest against Cleveland, he scored on a 72-yard pass from Kitna. It was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal 2–14 season for Cincinnati.
During the offseason, Chad spent time at a retreat for receivers and defensive backs held by Deion Sanders at his estate in Texas. Sanders opened Chad's eyes to the tendencies of receivers and pass coverage specialists. He was seeing a whole new layer of the game. Of those three days in Dallas, Chad says that Sanders took him “over the rainbow."
MAKING HIS MARK
Chad had a stellar season in 2003, smashing Eddie Brown’s franchise receiving mark and leading the AFC with 1,355 yards on 90 catches. He also scored 10 touchdowns. As was becoming a habit, Chad made the highlight reels on a regular basis. He went coast to coast on an 82-yard catch and run touchdown against the Ravens in an October meeting. A week later, he caught the winning TD against the Seattle Seahawks.
Chad’s contributions helped the Bengals see marked improvement under new coach Marvin Lewis. After an 0–3 start, Cincinnati rebounded to go 8–8. The Bengals were the last team bumped out of the playoffs. Perhpas the season’s top moment was a win over the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs—a victory that Chad brashly guaranteed.
Chad’s first postseason appearance came as a starter in the Pro Bowl. He connected with Steve McNair on an eye-popping 90-yard touchdown play and finished the game with 156 yards, second-most in the history of the all-star contest.
The demanding Lewis was known as a defensive wizard, but he had a profound effect on Chad’s game. In his first camp, Lewis chewed Chad out for cutting the occasional corner on his routes. Eventually Chad asked his coach what the problem was—did he expect him to be perfect on every play? Lewis responded by asking Chad if he wanted to be the best. His game would soon reach the next level.
In 2004, Chad and the Bengals proved they were no fluke. Cincinnati turned in another respectable 8–8 season, as Carson Palmer took the quarterback reins and Rudi Johnson—a junior college foe of Chad’s—became the featured back. The press had a ball with the Johnson & Johnson theme, especially with Rudi being so quiet and Chad being the NFL’s unofficial touchdown celebration king. He paid a heavy price for this distinction, earning fines for some of his more elaborate gyrations.
The piece de resistance came during a 41–38 win over the San Francisco 49ers. After finding the end zone, Chad sprinted over to a snow bank where he had stashed a pre-printed sign that he held up for the cameras: Dear NFL, Please don’t fine me again. That one cost him $10,000.
Chad led the AFC again with 1,274 receiving yards, while his 95 catches placed him third in the NFL. Among Chad’s top plays were a gravity-defying touchdown catch against the Steelers, a game-winning TD snatch against the New York Giants, a pair of 50-yard catches against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football, and a diving grab in the end zone between two New York Jets defenders on a 60-yard bomb fromb Palmer. After the season, Chad was named to his second straight Pro Bowl.
After two .500 seasons, the Bengals took a giant leap forward in 2005. They won 11 times and obliterated many of their opponents. Palmer, in particular, hit his stride. At times, the Cincinnati passing game was literally unstoppable.
Chad was an essential part of that attack. He broke his '03 franchise record for receiving yards with 1,432, a total that led the AFC and was third overall in the NFL. His best game came in a loss against the Indianapolis Colts. Chad racked up 189 yards to establish a new personal high. Later in the season, he caught 11 balls in a victory against the Detroit Lions.
The Bengals won the AFC Central, but their Super Bowl hopes were dashed when Palmer suffered a devastating knee injury in the first quarter against Pittsburgh. Cincinnati fell to the Steelers and then watched them roll all the way to the NFL title.
The 2006 season was full of hope for Bengals fans, provided Palmer recovered fully. With defenses keying on Chad early in the season, the Bengals often looked elsewhere for their offense. That changed as the season wore on. In a late-October game against the Panthers, Chad set up the winning score when he sprawled and caught a fourth-down pass under heavy coverage for 32 yards. Watching from the Carolina sideline was his cousin, Keyshawn Johnson, and his buddy Steve Smith.
Chad also turned heads off the field in '06. During Hispanic Heritage Month, he announced that he would prefer to be called "Ochocinco" (Spanish for his number, 85). In a game against the Atlanta Falcons, the "C. Johnson" on his jersey was replaced by a Velcro patch that said "Ocho Cinco." Palmer ripped off the new name tag before kickoff, but the league still fined Chad $5,000. Worse, the Bengals lost the game. Thanks to a deal with Atlanta’s DeAngelo Hall—if the Bengals didn’t win, Chad had to shave off his mohawk.
In November games against the Chargers and New Orleans Saints, the clean-shaven receiver gained 260 and 190 yards, respectively. The successive contests broke the two-game NFL record of 448 yards set by John Taylor of the 49ers in 1989.
Chad found the end zone only seven times in ’06, he but finished the year with 1,369 receiving yards— three more than Indy's Marvin Harrison. It was Chad’s fourth AFC receiving title, but the first time he led the NFL. No Bengal had ever done so before. Chad was the also the first player since conference play began to lead his conference in yardage four times in a row.
Chad was named a Pro Bowl starter for the fourth season in a row. In the game, he made three catches for 72 yards and a touchdown. Chad drew an interference call late in the fourth quarter to set up the AFC’s winning field goal.
The 2007 season saw Chad surpass his league-leading yardage total, with a career-high 1,442 yards. Early in the year, he overtook Isaac Curtis as the team's all-time leader in receiving yards. He and Houshmanzadeh both reached the 1,000-yard plateau for the second straight season. Chad caught 93 passes in all, which pushed him past Carl Pickens for the franchise record in that category.
As for the Bengals in ’07, they were a model of inconsistency. Cincy started the year 1–4 and failed to win consecutive games until the year’s final weekend. All things considered, their 7–9 record wasn't bad, but it certainly was not good enough to make the playoffs.
Chad took some of the heat for this failure. There were whispers that his self-centered approach to football was hurting the club. Chad was used to criticism. What hurt this time, however, was that the team did not immediately rush to his defense. During the offseason, Chad lobbied hard for a trade. He had his eye on the Washington Redskins.
When training camp began in 2008, Chad was still in a Bengals uniform. He injured his shoulder in a preseason game but decided to play through the pain rather than miss time to surgery and rehab. He might just as well have skipped the year. Palmer was hurt early on, and the Bengals lost their first eight games. Chad had his worst statistical season since his rookie year, catching 53 passes for just over 500 yards and only four touchdowns.
Once again, Chad grumbled about not returning to the team in 2009. The Eagles and Giants inquired about his services, but Cincinnati had no intention of letting him go—especially after Housmanzadeh departed via free agency. The Bengals were healthy and productive when the season opened, with Palmer leading the club to nine wins in the first 12 games. The rushing attack was revitalized behind the resurgent Cedric Benson, who ran for 1,251 yards.
With Palmer back to top form, Chad had another big year. He caught 72 passes and scored nine touchdowns.
Heading into the season’s final week, the Bengals had nothing to gain or lose in their game with the Jets. They had a postseason berth sewed up. Coach Lewis elected to rest many of his starters, and New York won 37–0 to squeeze into the playoffs. Cincinnati’s first playoff opponent was, you guessed it, the Jets. The Bengals opened the scoring with a first-quarter touchdown, but it was all downhill from there. New York had no turnovers and allowed no sacks. The Jets won 24–14.
After the disappointing loss to New York, Cincinnati reassessed its needs on offense and defense. High on the team’s shopping list was a second go-to receiver to pair with Chad. The key to Bengals’ offense, after all, was giving Palmer as many quality targets as possible. The team’s defense was already good; the offense, meanwhile, had finished 22nd in the league. Toward the end of July, the big news came: Terrell Owens had agreed to a one-year deal.
Chad and T.O. gave the Bengals a formidable pass-receiving corps. Owens reeled in 72 balls for 983 yards, while Chad added 67 for 831. But while Palmer finished with over 4,000 passing yards, it had little impact on the team’s fortunes. The Bengals were lacking in almost every other facet of the game.
In the 2010 opener, the two superstar receivers combined for 19 catches in a loss to the Patriots. The Bengals rebounded to win their next two. But when they dropped a pair of close games to the Browns and Bucs, the team started a disastrous losing skid that didn’t end until mid-December. Cincinnati finished 4–12, last in the division. Eight of those losses were by eight points or less.
After the season, the Bengals decided it was time to make some changes. Palmer demanded a trade, but he was going nowhere. Instead, The Club dealt Chad to New England Patriots for a pair of draft choices.
The Patriots have a strong enough team culture to absorb a big personality like Chad. They also have enough talent to cut him loose if he becomes too disruptive or fails to meet on-field expectations. That being said, Patriot fans have an interesting season ahead if Chad clicks with Tom Brady the way Randy Moss. Brady is one of the game’s most accurate passers, while Chad is one of its best route-runners.
Win or lose, it will be a lively year for the Pats. Indeed, the locker room may generate more news than what happens on the field. For his part, Chad has said all the right things. Of course, Chad is the ultimate showman, so this may be just part of his act.
CHAD THE PLAYER
When NFL fans look at Chad, some see an arrogant, selfish showboat. Others consider him a player whose passion and talent know no bounds. When NFL coaches watch Chad, they see two big, soft quick hands, explosive speed and breathtaking athleticism.
Chad is difficult to stop, hard to frustrate and you can’t try to trick him twice, because the trick will be on you. He studies enemy defenses and has a deep and complex arsenal of moves that he unveils slowly as a game develops.
Chad is excellent after the catch, but where he truly excels is getting the edge on his defender and then catching the ball where it’s thrown. He is just as good in mid-air, making acrobatic catches as well as anyone in the league. In fact, some teammate like to call Chad "Gumby" for his ability to twist and make circus grabs.
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