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Trash talking into trouble

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Neil Reynolds | 10:50 UK time, Thursday, 17 December 2009

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


  • Comment number 1.

    I enjoy these columns and I rarely find content that I disagree with, but I have to say that I find Ochocinco entertaining. In a league where celebrations are virtually illegal (remember Welkers 15 yard flag for a snow angel in the end zone ?) I like the idea that someone is trying to provide some entertainment.
    Of course his constant media cravings can be tiresome but you get the whole package with him, some good some bad.
    His latest trash talk (wanting to fight the Chargers Shaun Merriman) is clearly a step too far but for a guy who is not trained in the art of media liaison there is a danger that he will occasionally make a stupid comment, as I say, you take the bad with the good.
    I read somewhere once that the average person says 30,000 words a day, I think Ochocinco is the kind of guy that needs to say 130,000 words a day and mixed in amongst that will undoubtedly be some rubbish.
    Did anyone else see his 90min internet phone in after the Tiger scandal broke ? theatrical madness !
    As for Sundays game I agree this will be an absolute cracker and I like what San Diego is doing right now, they could win a tight one here.

  • Comment number 2.

    You leave Ochocinco alone! The "bribe" of the official was hilarious, and Bungle fan or not, you gotta love his celebrations. And I'll give him this too - when has his showboating on field ever cost the Bungles a game? That's why he didn't put on a show in Minnesota, he didn't want to give away penalties that would cost his team; had he pulled in a game-winning TD pass, things might have been different...

    One moment this season which sort of summed him up was when he took that head-shot from Ray Lewis (which probably did cost the Ravens that game), he bounced right up to go mano-a-mano with Lewis. He walks the walk, and he is much less of a disruptive influence than someone like Terrell Owens - Marvin Lewis figured this out, that's why they kept him this off-season when a lot of people thought he'd leave.

    One other Bungle-related point - Chris Henry was in a car accident this week, and is fighting for his life. They'll all be pulling for him, and who knows, it might just inspire Palmer and co this weekend... still, you'd think the Chargers are too hot at the moment, I'd give them a 34-17 win.

  • Comment number 3.

    Neil I have to say that yes 85 is a bit of a spoon but he's also great for the game! He may not appear all that professional 100% of the time but he's one of the best in the business at what he does and honestly appears to love the game, something that I think is all too rare in sports these days and undervalued to a huge degree. While he does appear to be a love/hate kind of character I think everyone would have to agree that the game is better off with people like Chad Ochocincho in it!

  • Comment number 4.

    Hey Neil, Im with the others on this one. You need colourful characters in every sport or else it would just be a load of emotionless robots on the field. He clearly loves the game and this is his way of expressing it so im all for it. Look at Usain Bolt and his theatrics after winning races, it just adds to the whole spectacle.

  • Comment number 5.


    I am so compelled to comment that I signed up to comment just for this!

    Whilst I love your blogs,very entertaining and well informed in this case I know it is your personal opinion but you are wrong.

    85 is the most entertaining, if not the only entertaining character left in the NFL - No Fun League...

    85 loves the game he plays, and he just wants to have fun; I think you will find when all is said and done with this particular blog that you are in the minority in your thinking.

    As a long suffering Bengals fan as well, I will stand up for 85 more than most because he produces week in week out. If he pulled off these antics without producing numbers I may have another opinion but until he starts dropping passes and missing TD's he can do whatever he wants IMO.

    Lastly, thoughts for Chris Henry as well, looks like he is in a bad bad way. Hope he makes a full recovery.

  • Comment number 6.

    Just heard Chris Henry passed away. Sad day.

  • Comment number 7.

    Just been reported on CBS that Henry has died today from the injuries he suffered.

  • Comment number 8.


    I'd like to first compliment you on the quality of your blogs. I have enjoyed them far more than the commentaries available here in the US, which are written to increase ratings on their respective networks instead of providing interesting thoughts.

    First, I have to acknowledge the tragic death of Chris Henry at the age of 26. He seemed to be, finally, getting his life together. I hope that the team will rally around his memory and improve their own lives. It has been hard to be a Bengals fan this decade due to the team's behavior. This may be the final example necessary to turn them around.

    I grew up 30 miles from the stadiums on the river and was a Reds season ticket holder from the ages of 13-18. I have been attending at least 3 Bengals games a year since 1988. Cincy fans are very different than other areas of the country. We are intensely loyal. Once a player plays for our teams, they are given unconditional support by the community. We still love Pete Rose for crying out loud! When players leave, we STILL love them. The baseball team has been terrible for the past 10 years, so many of our best players leave (because we are too poor to pay for them) – when they return playing for our rivals, they are cheered. We don't feel betrayed. Once the love is given, it can't be taken away.

    Chad wanted to leave the team, and the fans still stood by him anyway. We love him not because of his mouth, but because he puts in blocks, runs the most precise routes, and has hands covered in glue. He doesn't rest on his talent. He plays hard and practices hard. The mouth is there more entertain himself than anything else. Contrary to his image and his book, he is no fool.When a game this season was in danger of dropping below the required ticket limit for it to be aired on local TV, Chad stepped in and got his sponsor to buy some tickets to give away. He's a good man. He's never done anything really distracting. No DUIs, no domestic violence, no carrying illegal firearms, nothing that is a REAL distraction in the NFL. The press is fairly infantile in their treatment of Chad. He doesn't cross the real lines. He pushes at boundaries that don't really matter (like wearing the wrong color chin straps). The press complains about Chad to build ratings. Talking about the real problems would only hurt ratings.

    One last thought on the Bengals – Just because they run a lot this year, doesn't mean Carson Palmer can't gunsling with the best of them. The team knows how to play a no huddle spread, because they did it for years, and even had success in the only recent year without horrible injury problems. The team was built this year to beat the Steelers and the Ravens. And the defense did it! If we had one more high quality WR (which was Chris Henry), the Bengals would be a bigger threat downfield. I expect that to be a draft priority in the third or fourth round.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi guys - just arrived home after a 6-hour drive through the snow. What lovely winter weather! At least the Colts-Jaguars clash was a good one.

    Thanks for all your comments... Re Ochocinco, I recognise that colourful characters are good for the game - he just doesn't float my boat. I think I've gone all Victor Meldrew at the age of 37.

    As for Chris Henry... what a tragic and sad loss. By all accounts he was turning his life around. Very sad.

  • Comment number 10.

    Neil, I guess I understand if covering the game for a living means you get a bit tired of a showboater like Ochocinco.

    But for us schlups who are fans only, the guy is tremendous. It's quite fair to put a question mark against the guys who are a disruptive influence in their teams, but Ochocinco is not that.

  • Comment number 11.

    Neil - congratulations on an 'am' post after covering last nights game.
    I've got to say the Jags impressed me with the exception of cracking when they needed a final drive - I guess this is what makes the Mannings and Bradys stand above the rest.
    Overall a good game, but of course after the terrible news on Chris Henry football takes a back seat

  • Comment number 12.

    R.I.P. Chris Henry. But about "85", the guy is easily the most entertaining man in the nfl. As a steelers fan i look forward to the annual double against the bungles, just to see who OchoCinco is going to irritate during the week.

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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