2-9-04, 5:20 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
It was a five-star effort in a five-star game among the stars. But an hour after the best Pro Bowl a Bengal ever had in the best Pro Bowl ever, wide receiver Chad Johnson munched on a fast-food cheeseburger.
"Been eating McDonald's over here all week," said Johnson from Hawaii early Monday as he savored his five catches for 156 yards. "I don't think I had anything to prove. But whenever you hear people doubt, or have questions, it's always good to show them wrong."
Johnson and Bengals right tackle Willie Anderson started the biggest scoring display in all-star history when Johnson wasted no time in becoming the first Bengal to ever score an offensive point in the Pro Bowl Sunday when he caught Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair's 90-yard touchdown pass on the AFC's first play from scrimmage.
But after falling behind 38-13, the NFC rallied for a 55-52 victory when Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed a 51-yard field goal try on the last play of a game that saw both teams break the Pro Bowl record of 51 points.
After McNair's play-action fake, he had his choice of Johnson going long or Colts receiver Marvin Harrison coming across the middle. With Johnson all by himself streaking past Lions cornerback Dre' Bly, the decision was made with the second longest Pro Bowl pass in history.
"I told you I would," said Johnson of last week's assurance he would break the Bengal drought. "That was a post corner. A real deep post corner. The Steelers run that all the time with Hines Ward and Plaxico (Burress) and it always works. Marvin was running a drag on the back side and (Bly) peeked at him for a second and the safety jumped Marvin, too, and I was all by myself. I've been that open all year."
Maybe the most eye-opening part of the play was at the finish, when Johnson simply dropped the ball in the end zone instead of unveiling one of his celebrations that cost him at least twice this year with the NFL office.
But Johnson and his mates were warned before the game that there could be no funny business, and Johnson thinks it's because his plan leaked out just before kickoff.
"I was going to do my Janet Jackson," said Johnson, referring to last week's incident at halftime of the Super Bowl.
Johnson said he planned to put some extra material on his jersey and "the first guy that reached me in the end zone was going to tear it off. And then I'd have something like the NFL logo showing after he ripped it off. That would have been pretty good. But I think the word got out."
It also probably would have been pretty expensive and Johnson just caught a break from the league. A few days after Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna revealed that his fine for wearing a ball cap with a cross in a post-game news conference had been rescinded, Johnson said some of his fines had also been rescinded by the NFL.
"I'm not sure if they were the fines for the uniform (violations) or celebrations," Johnson said. "I just know they told me it's not as much as I had."
Johnson said his favorite part of the game was watching fellow wideouts Harrison and NFC ace Torry Holt during the track meet. Harrison caught a touchdown bomb from teammate Peyton Manning, and Holt caught seven passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
"Just being able to watch the little things they do during a game was a real experience," said Johnson, who again wouldn't delve into specifics because, "Those are secrets I'm going to take back and use in my game."
But guys may have been taking notes on Johnson's patented come-back route. He ran it to perfection against the NFL's premier cornerback, the Redskins' Champ Bailey, and the 23-yard gain on a leaping catch at the NFC 11 during the next-to-last drive set up Manning's touchdown pass to Ward that cut the lead to 55-52.
"Chad played great out there. He gave the striped helmet a lot of nice air time," Anderson said. "He may have surprised some people by just dropping the ball (in the end zone), but that's kind of a misperception. Chad's not really like that. He just loves to play. I think he showed everybody what he's got. People laughed at the beginning of the year when he said he was trying for 1,800 yards and going to lead the league, and look what happened. He led the conference and he had a big game today."
But Anderson wasn't happy the AFC coaches kept throwing the ball up 25 points.
"Here we've got all three of our running backs are record-setters," Anderson said of Jamal Lewis, Priest Holmes, and Clinton Portis, "and none of them ran it more than something like eight times. That's a disgrace."
Anderson rotated at right tackle with Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden and Tennessee's Brad Hopkins and played a solid game in not giving up one of the NFC's three sacks.
Johnson made it clear that while there wasn't a celebration Sunday, he'll have something ready for 2004. Before one of the AFC's kickoffs, he did lead the unit in a dance just before they kicked off. But he said he didn't do any talking.
"Not in a game that doesn't mean anything," Johnson said. "If the game counted, I would have been talking trash with the corners. But in the fourth quarter, when it got close, it got real serious out there. Everything was normal until the fourth quarter. Then it got dead serious."
Bengals have now been involved in the two longest passes in Pro Bowl history. Quarterback Jeff Blake set the record in the first 2:26 of the 1996 game on his 93-yard touchdown pass to Steelers wide receiver Yancey Thigpen in a game the NFC won, 20-13.
Before Sunday, cornerback Ashley Ambrose scored the only Cincinnati Pro Bowl touchdown in the 1997 game when he returned an interception 54 yards for a touchdown 11 seconds into the fourth quarter of a game the AFC won in overtime, 26-23.
And, before Sunday, the best Bengal outing was probably 20 years before that when quarterback Ken Anderson led the AFC's 24-14 victory with a pair of touchdown throws. The first one went to a former Cincinnati teammate, Chargers wide receiver Charlie Joiner, for a 12-yard catch and a 17-7 lead. Then Anderson rung up a 27-yarder to Raiders wide receiver Cliff Branch for the game's last score.