Hundreds of fans gather Saturday at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in the Rookwood Pavilion in Norwood to see
Posted: 8:15 p.m.
Chad Ochocinco looked up from his autobiography and summed up his life.
“I’m going to be Chad Johnson for Halloween,” The Ocho said.
Ochocinco celebrated the latest chapter of Ochomania and Bengaldom on Halloween Saturday at Joseph-Beth Booksellers when he showed up to sign about a thousand books in his latest costume.
Team player on one of the hottest teams in the NFL, the 5-2 Cincinnati Bengals. Key cog in a workman-like offense that needs his Pro Bowl flair at wide receiver. NFL statesman who spent this bye week showing up everywhere from David Letterman’s green room to the top of the stairs at Joseph-Beth in Norwood, Ohio, a spot reserved for “major celebrities.”
“You definitely have to put him in that category,” said Barb Hudson, director of public relations and events for the store. “Jenna Bush, daughter of the president, Johnny Bench. He’s in that group.”
But this Chad, the team guy that can’t get the 5-2 start out of his head, had a question as he signed.
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” he said of the next two games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh, “but if we win and are 5-0 in the division, we’re pretty much in the playoffs, right? If that’s the case, then it’s not a nine-game season, it’s a two-game season and these next two games are the most important ever.”
As he greeted the orange-and-black draped congregation from the staircase of a store jam-packed with fans twisting among the aisles, they roared when he said he was sorry for what had transpired last year and that he was out there representing their city and the Bengals the best he could.
“He’s a football fan’s dream,” said Angie Alsip of Deer Park, holding a copy of the book as she waited for The Ocho to arrive, her lucky tiger-striped fleece tied around her waist. “He’s got the fervor, zest and spirit I think is lost in so many players. He’s a rarity. He’s got that personality that people want to reach out and get to know him.”
But that’s not what is in the book, Ocho Cinco: What Football and Life Have Thrown My Way.
Not a book where the cover depicts him lifting both middle fingers. One is covered by the word “Ocho,” and the other by “Cinco.” Not a book that seems to be written in large part by the Freddie Kreuger that barged into Halloween 2008 using every media outlet to rip the Bengals and force a trade. He played the disgruntled diva too well and had the worst season of his career.
But there he was Saturday, catching a glimpse of Susan and Tom Schroeder of Colerain Township in the crowd and having them announced so they could sit near him behind the ropes. When Jermaine Boyd of Evanston came through the line with his nephew, The Ocho stood up, hugged him, and asked him to stick around.
Susan Schroeder met Ochocinco his rookie year when she worked at Provident Bank and invited him to the LaRosa’s in White Oak because she didn’t want to ask for his autograph at work. Boyd met him his second day in Cincinnati when he was lost and looking for a car wash.
He’s been friends with them since. Back in the days when Tom remembers they would go to high school football games and LaRosa’s, where Ochocinco would grab a job application and fill in “$1 million plus” for salary and explain he couldn’t work Sundays because he had another job.
“A sensitive, nice young man who has been great to our kids,” Tom said.
“I think the real Chad is back,” Susan said.
But just exactly who is The Real Chad?
NFL statesman? Disgruntled diva? Lost puppy rookie?
Chad Ochocinco or Chad Johnson?
“I’m all of them,” he said. “I’m real.”
The book still has some rants. His co-author, Jason Cole, an estimable NFL writer for Yahoo.com, wrote one potential trade story as recently as this spring and The Ocho admitted Saturday, “I was disgruntled when I wrote the book. That’s where I was. I’ve seen you get disgruntled, too.”
But now he says he’s a Bengal through 2030 and recalls a conversation he had with Bengals president Mike Brown.
“Mike said that I will be a Bengal until my career ends,” he said. “You know when Mike says something, he means it.”
So do the fans, the group that never deserted him. Jeff Randolph, 31, of Sharonville, Ohio, paid the $25 for the book and stood in line thinking about what he’d say when he reached him.
“I like his heart, the way he plays,” Randolph said. “That gets overlooked by his antics.”
The Ocho lit up when a fan told him he had traded two players, including Clinton Portis, to get him on his fantasy team.
He laughed when a lady, with a Bengals No. 85 covering a very pregnant belly, told him to "kiss the baby."
“Yeah,” said The Ocho to another man, “I got your message on Twitter.”
They weren’t supposed to, but they shoved posters at him to sign and resumes to read if he’s looking for a personal assistant. Bill “Seg” Dennison, the WLW icon who works so often his voice has become a soundtrack,, interviewed Ochocinco on the stairs and gave him some McDonald’s coupons.
The Ocho had gone from Letterman to Seg Man.
On Saturday, this was Ochocinco's team and this is his town. The only man to ever lead a conference in receiving yards four straight years (2004-2007) has vaulted back into contention. He’s just 61 yards shy of leader Andre Johnson of Houston and he’s already been a Bengal long enough that he’s just 522 yards away from becoming only the sixth NFL player to catch 10,000 yards with the same team.
This is already the guy’s second book, which means he has now passed Paul Brown on the Bengals all-time author list. But this was, no doubt, the most high-profile week of his career. ESPN all day on Thursday, ranging from SportsCenter to First Take, as well as a Thursday night appearance on Letterman’s Late Night.
It’s where he met one of his favorite actors, Tom Hanks, and he smiled when he recalled that Hanks told him “l like what you’re doing. You’re doing a great job. The last name change was a classic.”
His favorite Hanks movie?
It was kind of fitting that Hanks would follow him on the show. It was Hanks’ co-star in the movie Philadelphia, Denzel Washington, that The Ocho says gave him such a riveting pep talk in February that it pulled him out of the bad boy funk.
“D.W. and Ray,” The Ocho said of Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. “Words are powerful things.”
Some fans are a little torn by the words in the book. Ian Bailey, 32, who grew up on the Boomer Esiason-Ickey Woods Bengals in the West End, took his eight-year-old son to the signing. They both wore No. 85.
“I’m OK with him. I like some of the crazy celebrations in the end zone. That’s what I would do,” Bailey said. “But some of things he says, I just don’t know about it. You know, ‘I want out, but I’ve got a contract, I can’t back out of it, I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.’ But I’m thinking like him. Hey, I bought the book; I might as well get it signed.”
But this isn’t The Ocho of ’09 or this week or this Halloween. This is the Chad of Staci Booth.
Booth was the matron of honor at Angie Alsip’s wedding and she didn’t know she was coming to a book signing Saturday.
“Next to her husband, The Ochocinco is the love of her life,” Alsip said. “She has never met him and when I heard about this on the radio, I knew this was it, so I bought her the book. I picked her up today, but I didn’t want to tell her where we were going, so I only wore the fleece.”
Booth was grateful, as well as pumped up.
“He seems genuine,” she said. “There’s a lot of crap that’s said about him, but I just think he wants to get everybody excited.”
Genuine is the word the Schroeders and Boyd use.
“Same guy,” Boyd said as he watched him sign. “Just likes to have fun.”
He had more than that during a recent dinner out with the Schroeders. The couple took an inner city youth that Susan is mentoring because they wanted The Ocho to talk to him about how to stay on the right road.
“I didn’t know it until after Chad left,” Tom Schroeder said, “but he slipped him $50 for clothes. And he didn’t even know him.”
When he was done signing, “The Ocho” got a plate of spaghetti and meatballs and a soda in front of him on the table once used by a Kennedy and a McCain and was adamant the whirlwind week had not been a distraction. Indeed, he can’t stop thinking about Baltimore.
He turned down an invite to do the NFL Today on CBS Sunday because he just couldn’t see getting on another plane to New York. He’s going to have to get on another plane after practice Monday to attend the funeral of one of his former coaches at Santa Monica College. He had turned down another TV appearance for Tuesday because “I have to go” to the funeral.
“My bye week,” he said as he took a very real bite of spaghetti, “is over.”