Trash talking into trouble
UPDATE: This blog was written before news reached us of Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry's tragic death from injuries suffered in a fall from a pick-up truck.
The build-up to some NFL games can be rather dull as players and coaches are afraid of giving motivation to the opposition with some ill-chosen words.
New England Patriots are the worst in the NFL at playing down an upcoming game. I remember being in Boston in October when the Pats were preparing to take on the winless Tennessee Titans and head coach Bill Belichick could not have been less controversial if he tried.
Talking about the Titans, who had been mostly awful up to that point of the season, Belichick said: "The Titans have a good quarterback (Kerry Collins had been terrible), a good running game, good receivers (really, coach?), a strong offensive line, a good defensive line, good linebackers and a strong secondary (this was the same unit that Tom Brady shredded with ease just days later). And they're good on special teams."
Seriously, he listed every available department and praised the Titans to the absolute maximum, even though they had not won a single game. The local Boston media stopped taking notes after the first sentence. It was a pointless waste of air.
So, I am in favour of players adding a little spice to proceedings leading up to games. And the odd bit of trash talking during a contest is good as well, as far as I'm concerned.
When I wrote my book on the toughest players in pro football history, some of the best and most colourful tales came from the likes of former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik and Chicago Bears hitman Dick Butkus.
They dominated with their style of play but certainly took the time to tell their opponents about it as well. They had some wonderful anecdotes to tell from the heat of the battle.
And who could ever forget the most famous piece of pre-game talk of all-time when New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath "guaranteed" success in Super Bowl III over the heavily-favoured Baltimore Colts. All other guarantees that have been made since pale in comparison to that piece of NFL history.
Chad Ochocinco at the centre of attention and in the endzone once again
I would definitely prefer to avoid a world full of Belichick-like press conferences, but have to admit I am growing very tired of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.
I don't have a problem with the whole name-changing thing because I understand he is a colourful character and everyone should have the right to change their name if they feel the urge. In fact, this blog could soon be penned by Neil Ocho-uno in honour of the number 81 shirt I wore when I played in the British League.
But I do find his constant chatter and seeking of headlines to be rather boring. He has done it so often and for so long that it has become irrelevant and meaningless.
This week, the Bengals are preparing for a key clash with the red-hot San Diego Chargers. And Ochocinco has said he would like to fight Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman. The reason is not that clear but since when did that matter? Another headline has been written so it's a case of mission accomplished for Ochocinco.
Last week, the Bengals played the Minnesota Vikings and Ochocinco said he was going to blow the giant Vikings horn that is used to celebrate big plays in the Metrodome if he scored a touchdown. He did find the end zone but strangely did not wrestle the horn from the grasp of the 350-pound giant charged with blowing it in Minnesota.
So the week-long headlines about his planned touchdown celebration in Minnesota proved to be a total waste of column inches.
Yet each week Ochocinco gets put up for a conference call with the opposing team's media. They crave interviews with him and, to be fair, he gives them the headlines they are searching for. But I find it is all done for effect now and is just another way of giving Ochocinco the spotlight he appears to crave.
He has become even more tiresome on the field as he battles to out-do himself with outlandish touchdown celebrations each week.
Already this season Ochocinco has been fined $50,000 for inappropriate and excessive actions on the pitch. He was slapped with a $20,000 bill for playfully attempting to 'bribe' an NFL official who was reviewing a play at the time. Ochocinco was waving a dollar bill in clear view of the cameras while the play was being studied.
Two weeks ago he donned a poncho and sombrero on the sidelines after scoring against the Detroit Lions. That is not the first time he has conducted such a drawn-out and self-promoting celebration - he once donned a fake Hall of Fame jacket after finding the end zone.
It's enough to make me long for the days when Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders used to score touchdowns and simply flip the ball to the official. There is also a school of thought that when you find the end zone, you should act like you've been there before.
Ochocinco never acts like he's been there before. He finds the end zone, scores a touchdown and then launches into yet another pre-meditated display. Yawn!
The only good thing to come from Ochocinco's actions is that the bulk of what he pays in fines gets passed on to various charities by the NFL.
Barry Sanders spent his entire professional career with the Detroit Lions
I don't mean to sound like a grumpy old so and so, and I don't believe Ochocinco is a malicious person in any way.
He insists and genuinely believes he is just having fun. Conveniently, it just so happens to be the kind of fun that keeps him in the media spotlight for what seems like every waking hour of this NFL season.
Game of the Week
We will get to cover Ochocinco's antics on BBC Radio Five Live Sports Extra this Sunday evening as the Bengals take on the Chargers. I have a feeling the outspoken wide receiver will have very little to celebrate.
The Chargers are on a roll at the moment and look set to be the second seed in AFC playoffs come January. Quarterback Philip Rivers is playing about as well as anybody in the game right now and San Diego's defence has also stiffened considerably.
The Bengals are a physical team centred on the running of Cedric Benson. But I just feel they are lacking explosion in the passing game and are in danger of becoming one-dimensional. Carson Palmer and his receivers have not been able to stretch the field enough and will struggle to keep pace with the San Diego attack.
Prediction: San Diego 30, Cincinnati 20