VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – Don’t you just love serendipitous dovetailing?
MAS sure does after benefiting from a whole bunch of it while putting this column together.
Indulge him, please, while he explains.
After the shocking release of star receiver DeSean Jackson by the Philadelphia Eagles, MAS had contemplated doing a piece on the “Death of the NFL Diva.”
With what happened to Jackson, following on the heels of the rather abrupt career endings of Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco/Johnson, it seemed that drama queen pro wideouts were no longer tolerated in the NFL.
Teams had finally decided that, no matter how talented they were, receivers of the “there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’ but there IS a ‘me’ in there” variety just weren’t worth the trouble.
Savings on aspirin alone would make it worthwhile for ball clubs to just sever ties with their peacock ilk.
Then came the news that the guy known originally as Johnson, then Ochocinco and now Johnson again, had just landed a tryout with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
Great, MAS thought.
With a CFL team salary cap of just $4.4 million — which Johnson had made by HIMSELF some years in the NFL — a humbled Chad would have to accept a relative pittance to return to pro ball.
This would show Johnson had learned his lesson and nicely reinforce MAS’s Death-of-the-NFL Diva story line.
Then, reading further on the Johnson-to-Montreal move, lo and behold, MAS saw the Alouettes would be holding their April mini-camp in — of all places — VERO BEACH, Florida.
Honestly, unless they delivered Johnson directly to MAS’ Vero doorstep, could they make his job any easier?
So, after slapping on some sunscreen, MAS made the five-minute drive to Historic Dodgertown to get the quotes he needed — FIRSTHAND — from Johnson and Montreal’s general manager themselves.
Story finished — all that remained was to insert their sound bites.
Piece of cake.
Or so MAS thought.
Turns out Johnson is indeed one contrite dude but, surprisingly, his new GM isn’t buying into the diva-is-dead angle quite yet (more on this later).
First, let’s review how Johnson reached this point.
Chad’s NFL days seemed to be over in the summer of 2012 when he was released by Miami after a domestic abuse charge.
This looked to be the last straw in a career-long list of issues involving the self-promoting Johnson, who had achieved as much notoriety for appearing on the American TV show “Dancing with the Stars” as on the gridiron.
Thereafter, teams wouldn’t touch him with a goal post crossbar.
But, when Johnson recently tweeted out his desire to return to football, the Alouettes extended him an invitation to try out for their ball club.
Johnson arrived at the Alouettes spring camp in Vero a chastened man.
“I made a horrible mistake,’ Chad told MAS. “And something I’ve loved doing since I was 4 years old was taken away from me — and rightfully so.
“My entire situation was a wake-up call,” he continued. “It’s OK to eat humble pie — and what better example than this?”
One gets the feeling Chad really means it when he plays the “It’s not about the money” card.
“If it was, I would have stayed at CBS (as an analyst) and made MORE money,” Johnson said.
“I just want to get back to something I love to do.”
After his first day of practice, Johnson was aglow.
“Aww man, it was FUN!” said Chad, clearly thrilled to be back. “I felt just like a kid again — “that giddy feeling, the butterflies. . . .
“Now I have to study and understand the (12-man, three downs CFL) game and learn where I fit in and how I can help the team.”
At 36, Chad is from the age-is-just-a-number school, telling MAS: “With athletic training and technology these days, I’m looking to pick up right where I left off two years ago before I made my bonehead mistake.”
Montreal has long been a gridiron sanctuary for outlaw NFL luminaries (see suspended-for-marijuana use Ricky Williams and Lawrence Phillips, former Nebraska and St. Louis Rams serial ne’er-do-well).
Curiously, Alouettes GM Jim Popp says adding a diva to that list isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Trust me, there are still PLENTY of divas out there,” revealed Popp. “There are a lot of players you tolerate by performance.
“It’s in the locker room that matters,” he insisted. “It comes down to whether the players believe in them, get along with them and accept them.
“So far, except for the big media turnout, you wouldn’t even know he was here,” said Popp of Johnson’s exemplary — and understated — behavior.
“Besides, a lot of times, it’s the media that puts that diva label on players.”
Oh, sure, Jim, blame MAS (just kidding — Popp couldn’t have been more personable and forthright).
And thanks a lot for shooting down MAS’s diva-is-dead angle.
Johnson waxed philosophical when MAS asked if he viewed Montreal as a stepping stone back to the NFL.
“Everything in life is a stepping stone,” he said slyly. “You never know what’s in front of you.”
Anyone doubting Johnson’s commitment should have seen him dive to snag an ankle-high aerial in a Montreal eight-on-eight passing drill that day.
A young whippersnapper defender then tried to wrest the ball away from him as Chad hit the ground.
Johnson emphatically yanked it tight to his belly and a half-minute long tug of war ensued, ending in a near scuffle.
The youngster never could tear the pigskin from Johnson.
“I’m all about competing,” said Chad of the incident. “Just give me the opportunity — regardless of where it is.”
He’ll get his chance in Montreal. The Alouettes liked what they saw and signed him.
What happened to Johnson, though, should serve as a cautionary tale for the few remaining filthy-rich NFL diva receivers — are you listening knucklehead deluxe Dez Bryant of Dallas?
Maybe Dez will wise-up — and pull his mall-cruising droopy drawers up as well — before it’s too late.
If not, next spring MAS will be waiting, flip-flops at the ready, poised to dash crosstown for yet another gift-wrapped interview with an Alouette bargain bad boy.
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