INDIANAPOLIS – Chad Ochocinco was the last Patriot to walk across the field and wade into the pack of reporters and photographers waiting near the sideline. He felt no need to rush the moment he’d longed for nearly his whole life.
This was his Super Bowl media day.
Ochocinco finally got to be on the receiving end of questions Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium for an annual event that he attended several times as a microphone-toting correspondent for his social media Ochocinco News Network.
Now, the microphones were aimed at him.
“Aw, man, I’ve dreamed of it,” Ochocinco said, wearing his blue No. 85 jersey, blue Super Bowl cap and irrepressible smile. “I’ve been playing this game a long time — started out at four years old. And this is what you dream of, to come to this stage and enjoy it. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
And he’s doing it the New England way.
Instead of driving the conversation by talking about himself, Ochocinco was along for the ride. He didn’t seem to mind that he didn’t get one of the 14 podiums set up on the field for coach Bill Belichick and players.
Instead, he stood at the 13-yard line between podiums reserved for tight end Aaron Hernandez and receiver Matthew Slater, his soft tone often drowned out by his teammates’ speaker-amplified comments.
“This is my podium,” Ochocinco said, referring to his small section of artificial turf encircled by reporters and photographers. “If I was up there, you couldn’t get to me. You couldn’t smell the cologne I have on now.”
During the nearly hour-long session, Ochocinco provided hardly a whiff of his old look-at-me ways. After 10 years of commanding the spotlight and losing games in Cincinnati, the social media mogul had to pull off one of his most difficult changes.
Ochocinco had to use the words “I” and “me” much more sparingly in order to co-exist with Belichick in New England. He had to learn, he says, throwing in an obscenity, to shut up.
There was no remorse in his tone on Tuesday. He knew when the Patriots traded for him that his self-promoting ways would have to end. If he lapsed back into look-at-me, he’d be looking at the end of his stay in New England.
So, he did away with his lists of cornerbacks who couldn’t cover him, his touchdown skits and victory guarantees. Ochocinco, who legally changed his name from Johnson to get more attention, would have to drop the “diva” from his job description.
“I could have talked,” he said, ‘but then I’d be sitting at home today.
“I think I’ve had a great career in general. The year wasn’t what I expected, what everyone else expected. But I did everything I was supposed to do — work, stay quiet. I don’t know if being on this stage is a reward, but there’s nothing else I can do. I’m part of a team and I’ve done everything asked of me.”
Especially the “stay quiet” part, which went against his nature.
He repeatedly bumped egos in Cincinnati with coach Marvin Lewis, who referred to him once as “Ocho Psycho.” Ochocinco miffed teammates with his attention-gathering antics — and his sloppy pass routes — and got under the skin of opponents by sending them Pepto-Bismol and other gifts. The league repeatedly fined him for his on-field celebrations and refusal to follow its uniform code.
He set Bengals receiving records, but made the playoffs only twice in 10 years and went 0-2. He tried to get out of town, but ownership made him stay. He started planning for his next career, getting involved in social media, including his OCNN venture.
During the NFL lockout last summer, he rode a 680-kilogram bull for 1.5 seconds, tried out for Kansas City’s Major League Soccer team and took a 260 km/h spin around the Atlanta Motor Speedway with Jeff Burton.
He felt revived when the Bengals traded him to the Patriots in July, but quickly realized his career was taking an abrupt turn. He became a small piece in a high-powered passing game, catching only 15 passes all season for 275 yards and one uncelebrated touchdown.
“I know the season hasn’t gone the way he wanted to,” said Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, filling in for Ochocinco on his OCNN crew this week. “The way they do things up there, I think he’s kind of understood that and gone along with it. I’m happy for the guy.”
Ochocinco sounded upbeat about all of it. Asked if it was bittersweet for him to get to the title game as a reserve receiver without a podium, he smiled.
“It’s not bittersweet,” he said. “It’s the Super Bowl.”