When Chad Johnson comes back to take an official turn as "Ruler of the Jungle," Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) after so many days he owned Paul Brown Stadium as the Bengals all-time leading receiver, it times up nicely with his old team's AFC North joust with Cleveland.
And not just because he sent a package of Pepto-Bismol to the Browns secondary the week of the 2004 game in Cleveland for one of his more notorious gags.
It's because the Browns just released their diva Showtime wide receiver on Friday when an ugly, personal spat spiraled out of control and led to the departure of Odell Beckham, Jr. It was always crazy with Chad Javon Johnson but, really, it was never personal or ugly in Cincinnati. Next to the nastiness of this era, the Age of Chad seems almost downright idyllic.
"He was a great teammate. I never once remember him getting in a fight with one of his teammates," says ex-Bengals safety Chris Crocker. "He kept us loose and laughing. He made practice fun. He was never going to hurt you."
That was on and off the field.
"Everybody knew," Crocker says, "he'd run by you but never run you over."
They are calling Beckham's antics (demanding a trade, viral videos) a distraction. Johnson demanded a trade once and was often accused of being a distraction. But Crocker, who played with the Ocho for three seasons, wouldn't agree.
"He was a showman. We knew what he was and I feel lucky that I was able to play against him and with him," Crocker says. "I enjoyed playing with him. We took care of each other as teammates. We made each other better in practice and don't forget, he was one of the best of his era."
No doubt. Six Pro Bowls. Two first team All-Pros. The first to lead the AFC in receiving yards four straight (2003-06) seasons. And countless of what began as gags that are now entertainment staples of the NFL.
"With all his antics, the celebrations and all that stuff, he was a pioneer. You see it all the time now," Crocker says. "That's too bad because he lost a lot of money."
Indeed, what was finable for Ocho Cinco is now choreographed and league approved. The second-year Crocker was a part of that Browns secondary that got airmailed the Pepto on Oct. 13, 2004.
"They're going to get sick to their stomachs trying to cover me. Just short of a guarantee," said Johnson that day, a year after he guaranteed a win over the 9-0 Chiefs that came to be.
But the Browns made Johnson ill in a 34-17 win he had just 37 yards on three catches.
"We got a little hoot out of that. I don't even remember who won the game," Crocker says. "We all got a little rise out of it. We used it as motivation, but it didn't make us mad."
The postgame went like this, according to an Associated Press dispatch:
"I stunk it up today," (Johnson) said. "This loss is really on my shoulders."
Johnson, though, had no regrets about his stunt and said he'd do it again.
"No one stopped me," he said. "I stopped myself."
Say what you will about The Ocho. He wasn't 2020s mean.
"When he trash-talked, he was always respectful. I think we all saw that he was good for the game," Crocker says.
Postscript: When the Bengals played the Browns later the next month at PBS, they won one of the highest scoring games in history, 58-48, and Johnson had 10 catches for 117 yards.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Now that Hakeem Adeniji is active, what's next for him and offensive line coach Frank Pollack? Head coach Zac Taylor says he feels good about any of his guys playing. He also says right guard Jackson Carman (back) can play after practicing full three straight days.
Adeniji, a 2020 sixth-round pick who made four starts at both tackle spots as a rookie, has been classified as both a guard and tackle.
"We'll see where he fits. We've always been optimistic about him," Taylor said Friday, a day after Adeniji was activated from injured reserve. "I think Frank does a good job keeping all those guys involved. We've got a lot of guys that we feel can play good football for us because of the time on task in the meetings he spends with them and the extra work. It's just not on the field."
Taylor acknowledged Adeniji has made a big climb to get active with just two practices in pads after missing all of training camp and the first six weeks of the season with an injured pectoral muscle.
"It goes to show you what kind of pro they are if they're able to put themselves in position maximizing the physical reps they get," Taylor said. ""There's nothing that you can do to simulate what you would face on a Sunday. So when you get out there you have to work your tail off to make sure you're physically ready and just get game reps to see where you're at."
Bengals senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner speaks highly of the newest Bengal, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. When Duffner was the Bucs interim defensive coordinator in 2018, Hargreaves was on injured reserve. But as Tampa Bay's linebackers coach in 2016 and 2017, he saw up close Hagreaves' first two seasons in the league.
"A real athletic guy. Smart. Has big-play ability," Duffner said Friday. "I like him. Glad he's here. He's a good teammate. Phenomenal hands. Great hands."
Taylor listed running back Chris Evans (hamstring) and wide receiver Auden Tate (thigh) as questionable after going limited all week, but he indicated they thought they could go.
Rookie edge Cam Sample (knee) missed Wednesday and was limited Thursday, but missed Friday because of an illness. Taylor said his knee feels better, but sounds like Sample is going to be a weekend call.