Chad Johnson being fired before our eyes on HBO’s Hard Knocks was jarring television. You could sense the awkwardness and the uneasiness for both Miami Dolphins’ coach Joe Philbin, and for Ochocinco. And you knew it was coming.
So often you don’t. An athlete can go from hero to zero in a blink of an eye. And no matter how many times it happens, it can catch us off-guard. Suddenly, you wake up and wonder, “What ever happened to…?”
Chad Johnson has been in decline for a couple of years, but it still feels sudden. He was a great, great player for the Bengals, and fell out of favor. But what happened in New England surprised everyone, including Bill Belichick who traded for him: He wasn’t good anymore. He never got it. How does an athlete go from so good to so useless so fast?
It just happens. Sometimes you see it coming. You see the gradual decline. Other times, you don’t know it’s the end until it is over. That is Chad, except even finding out it’s over was stunning because of how it played out.
Very few great players get to walk out on top. Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, and to a lesser extent, John Elway are among those that left with us wanting more. We just needed to know how much more we could squeeze out of them. We’ll never know. Elway wasn’t at his best anymore, but went out on top with a title and was showing he could still play.
The list is almost endless of good, productive players who just faded into the sunset. Chad Johnson, unfortunately, drove into the sun and exploded. Had he simply been cut at the end of preseason, or played the season out to end his career, he’d be like so many at the end, just trying to hang on, to keep getting paid, to try for that first title, and to keep whatever spotlight they have on them glowing for just a bit longer.
Perhaps Chad Johnson can add another chapter, but it seems more likely today that it would be for off-the-field news than on it.