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Cincy's latest sociology experiment won't lack in entertainment value

CINCINNATI -- What did Cincinnati do to deserve this?

Small, Midwestern, right-of-Reagan river town. Wouldn't pat itself on the back if it had a third hand in its collarbone. Home of the last major league team to ban facial hair; local address for the only NFL team ever to have a coach appear postgame in a tiger-striped loincloth. Great look, Sam Wyche, by the way.

Cincinnati is also the town that unleashed Jerry Springer on an unsuspecting world -- and Marge Schott and Pete Rose and, well, you get the picture. That it's now the stage for what should be the best melodrama of the 2010 NFL season doesn't seem so strange. In fact, given the club's affection for collecting strays, it appears downright logical.

Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, sharing one microphone. Two egos, one football. Two all-time, Pro Bowl, Hall of Fame narcissists staring at the same pond.

Will it work? Beats me.

Will it be fascinating? It'll be better than a barrel full of Freuds at a shrinks' convention.

You have two of the neediest players in the NFL inflicting their massive insecurities on the same team. Ochocinco was raised in the Liberty City area of Miami, by his grandmother. He didn't know his father; his mother left him with grandma when he was 5, before she moved to Los Angeles with Ochocinco's younger half brother.

According to his 2004 book, Catch This!, Owens was raised by his mother and grandmother, both of whom drank heavily. He didn't know who his father was until he was 11. To say his life and career parallels his buddy Ocho's is an understatement. Each has spent his adult life seeking the love and attention he never got growing up.

There could be Olympic-quality sprints to Bengals coach Marvin Lewis' office on Monday mornings to be the first to cry about a lack of passes. There could be pout-a-thons, pointed fingers and general spoon-banging. Carson Palmer will need to be quarterback, lion tamer and Judge Judy.

Ocho and T.O. could fracture a solid locker-room run successfully last season by born-again misfits and miscreants. Bengals president Mike Brown's latest sociology experiment could go thermonuclear. Every bad-boys cliché about the Cincinnati Bengals might be validated.

Or maybe not.

Maybe, at 36, T.O. wants what money and fame can't buy. Maybe, at 32, Planet Ocho understands that without on-field triumph, his off-field act will wither. No one wants reality from a guy connected with a loser. Maybe for a season, each decides to play one for the team, believing that, ultimately, it will help them individually. Which, let's face it, is all either of them cares about anyway.

Owens is a 6-foot-3, 224-pound freak of physical nature. On a bad Buffalo team with a poor offensive line and a quarterback from Harvard, Owens caught 55 balls and averaged 15 yards a catch. If he could do that with Ryan Fitzpatrick, how might he do with Palmer, and with his wingman Ocho?

The Bengals signed Owens for one year, at a modest $2 million base salary, with incentives that could double his pay. The Bengals have most of the leverage. While it's obvious that the balky knee of Antonio Bryant is not right, Cincinnati has spent the offseason upgrading its wideout corps. The Bengals also took Jermaine Gresham, a big, pass-catching tight end, with their first pick in the draft. It was a decent unit before Owens signed.

In his first year with a team, Owens isn't a major pain in the aspirations. And it wasn't as if his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, needed to hire a temp to answer his cell phone for calls regarding his aging, temperamental erstwhile superstar.

As for Planet Ocho, he has spent the offseason branding himself. His genius at self promotion knows no bounds. But he's not the most mature self-promoter on the planet. The wonder is if Ochocinco can keep his off-field fame in perspective and remain a Pro Bowl-quality receiver.

If it works, it's entertainment. If it doesn't, it's still entertainment. Sports have become a gargantuan reality show, played out under taxpayer-financed Big Tops, in front of millions on TV. What's more real than the NFL? Drugs, sex, fame, excess. Boys gone wild. HBO's Hard Knocks needs to make the quick U-turn from Jets camp.

Mike Brown refers to himself as a "redeemer.'' His roster of second-chancers, last-dancers and shoulder chips makes that obvious: Adam Jones, Tank Johnson, Antonio Bryant, Cedric Benson, Matt Jones, the late Chris Henry. And now, Terrell Owens.

Training camp at Boys-Will-Be-Boys Town opens Thursday morning. Everyone has a theory on how it will work out for the Bengals and their Two Amigos. No one knows for sure. Mike Brown's latest sociology experiment is about to begin, and it's going to be fascinating.

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