Ochocinco drops act to honor friend, teammate

In those several dozen steps between the field and the locker room,

Chad Ochocinco seemed to undergo a transformation, from persona to

person. By the time he reached the visitors’ quarters at

Qualcomm Stadium, the NFL’s master of calculated exuberance

was solemn, mournful and alone. His eyes were red-rimmed and moist.

No, it wasn’t part of the act. The Cincinnati Bengals

had just lost to the Chargers on a field goal with three seconds

left — a heartbreaking defeat with playoff position on the

line. But Ochocinco realized all too well the difficult part had

just begun.

There would be a break in the game-planning and the meetings.

The distractions would be fewer. Three days after the death of his

friend, fellow Bengals receiver Chris “Slim” Henry,

he’d finally be alone with his thoughts. On Tuesday, the team

travels to New Orleans for the funeral.

“Stay busy,” he said. “Stay busy as much as

I can. That’s all I can do. The more active I am, the easier

it is to keep it off my mind. The flight going home is going to

bother me. The funeral service is going to bother me. Any time

it’s quiet and you have time to think, it’s going to

bother me.”

Earlier in the week, Ochocinco had vowed to wear his

friend’s No. 15 jersey. The league would fine him, of course,

but the Players Association announced that it would reimburse him

the amount of the levy. Still, in uncharacteristically wise

fashion, the Bengals receiver backed off — not just for his

own sake, but for that of decorum. Chad Ochocinco has made a

vocation of calling attention to himself, but even he had to

acknowledge this wasn’t the time for it.

“Everybody agrees to mourn in a different way,”

he said. “My way would’ve been out there wearing that

jersey.”

It wasn’t that he objects to being called a

self-promoter. It’s that he didn’t want the accusations

to diminish the memory of his friend.

“That’s when I had to backtrack and think,”

he said. “Slim wouldn’t want that. He’d want me

to go out there and play for him. So today, I went out there and

played with an extra set of hands, an extra set of legs and an

extra heart.”

As it happened, he honored his fallen friend with a very good

game, even if it was in defeat. Early in the second quarter, he

dusted Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromatrie for a

49-yard-touchdown. His end-zone celebration, if that’s what

you can call it, was remarkably subdued — briefly pointing

upward before taking a knee.

“I just kept saying it over and over: 85 and 15,”

said Ochocinco. “There’s a hundred ways for us to be

great. It was a little thing we used to say all the time.”

Later, early in the fourth quarter, he took a Carson Palmer

screen pass, faked safety Kevin Ellison all but out of his cleats,

and cut across the field for 26 yards.

“You want to know why I reversed field?” he

asked. “… I was reading the defense and I was hoping it

would be (Quentin) Jammer. Jammer would’ve been a little

easier person to make a move on. But freaking Shawne Merriman was

following me … Shawne’s presence made me reverse the entire

field. That’s all there was.”

Whatever the case, it was a fine run that went to the San

Diego 7-yard line. Two plays later, Palmer found Laveranues Coles

in the end zone.

The Chargers were still up, 24-21. But you thought it was

only a matter of time before Cincinnati took the lead — and

the game.

The Bengals last possession did nothing to dissuade that

impression. It was a methodical drive, with Palmer passing short to

his tight end and running back Cedric Benson. Despite penalties and

a costly fumble that cost them 20 yards, they still came away with

a game-tying field goal.

“We had some good momentum,” said the tight end,

J.P. Foschi. “I thought we were going to win.”

He wasn’t alone. You could anticipate the conclusion:

The Bengals shaking off their grief to win a big game on the road.

If it wasn’t a storybook ending, that’s only because

Chris Henry — who died falling out of the bed of a truck

after a domestic incident with his fiancée —

didn’t live a storybook life.

In the end, it was enough for the principals to acquit

themselves well. The Chargers and the Bengals put on a very good

game. As far as Chris Henry is concerned, that’s sufficient

tribute.

After the field goal, given 54 seconds to work with, Philip

Rivers brought San Diego to the Cincinnati 34. Nate Kaeding hit a

52-yard field goal. It hurt a little, said Ochocinco, who quickly

reconsidered and said it hurt a lot. Reading more into a football

game is fraught with peril. Ochocinco, now making his way to the

team bus, had come to learn this the hard way.