Posted: 6:20 p.m.
The cell phone call buzzed in at 3:09 p.m. Monday after four months of unreturned messages.
"It's about time, isn't it?" Chad Ochocinco asked during a week he has ended his offseason of silence. "I haven't talked to you since December."
Early February, but who's counting? The Ocho has logged back on to Bengaldom, declaring the 2009 Bengals are better on paper than the 2005 ancestors that won the AFC North.
"The defense is sick now they're so good and we'll be better on offense because I'll be better," Ochocinco said. "I'm in unbelievable shape. I can run the Boston Marathon without stopping."
He may have a tougher foe than the Newton hills in the form of the fans from Newtown and Indian Hill, and all pockets associated with the stripes. But on Monday he reached across the great divide of controversy and chaos and made peace.
"I need the fans to embrace me. I know people are mad at me. I read the message boards, but I've apologized 85 times," Ochocinco said. "If they can embrace me, I can spread my wings and be myself. When they're mad at me, I don't know if I can be myself. I'm an emotional guy. I want them to know that I love them and I want to win. I want to be on point with everybody on the team and win. I know I've been frustrated when we haven't won. Maybe now when I vent, I should just do it to the fans on the message boards."
He also said he made another call Monday. To the man he simply calls "Number nine." The Ocho said he spoke to quarterback Carson Palmer for about "40 to 45 minutes" for the first time since the end of the season.
"I know people are trying to say we're mad at each other and all that, but we're good," he said. "We're like Brokeback Mountain. I'm going to be with Carson so much in July that I'm going to be the nanny (for his new twins).
"I'm going to babysit. We were getting down to the details. If he and the wife go out, they have to be back by three. I asked for permission to have company over."
But The Ocho sounds totally serious after missing his second straight spring of voluntary workouts. Last year it was because he was trying to get traded. This year, after speaking to an Academy Award winner (Denzel Washington) and an NBA winner (Kobe Bryant), he said he put himself in isolation to retrieve the hunger that gnawed at him long before the five Pro Bowls and the 2001 NFL Draft the Bengals picked him in the second round.
"After June, we don't work out again for five weeks," said The Ocho, who plans to attend the June 18-20 mandatory minicamp. "You lose all your rhythm after a week anyway. That's why I'm going to throw with (Palmer) in July before camp."
He said he had a brief discussion with head coach Marvin Lewis last week because he just doesn't think there is much to say.
"I wasn't talking to anybody because I was mad at them. If anybody was mad, it should have been them," he said, citing his subpar '08. "There was nothing to say. It's all business. In our conversation I just wanted to let Marv know what he's getting and that I've seriously been working out. Hunger has created a monster in a positive way and I was just running down some information for him. I'm a monster physically. For Marvin's sake, for (offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski)'s sake, my teammates' sake, I had to come back in greater shape than ever."
In the four seasons before 2008, The Ocho led the NFL in receiving yards and was second in catches. Then came his separated shoulder, Palmer's torn elbow, and just 53 catches for 540 yards.
Asked if he thinks the coaches are under fire this time around, he said, "When they see me, I'll be their hose because I'm (in such good shape) I'll put out any fire they're under."
Before he hooked up last month with former Bengals assistant coach Charles Collins, his junior college coach, The Ocho said he was working out three times a day in Miami since the Super Bowl, and started to take up boxing. Now he's at a Hollywood gym sparring with former champ Kevin Kelley.
"I'm going to hang boxing gloves in Carson's locker," The Ocho said. "Actually, everybody's locker, and challenge them to the ring."
He thinks he may have to break them out for one of his new teammates, five-time Pro Bowl safety Roy Williams.
"My goodness, when he comes across the middle," The Ocho said. "I don't know if I like that he'll have the chance to hit me in training camp. I may have to bring out the gloves."
Speaking of training camp, the man who thrives on the camera says it's not going to be as easy as you think for him in front of the Hard Knocks crew.
"It's going to be hard opening up after such an embarrassment," he said of last season's dismal year. "What I want to show the world is why we're going to be successful this season. I know people are going to be saying it's going to be great for the old Chad laughing and joking. But I want people to show why this is going to be such a great year for the team."
Ochocinco spent some time talking to a true heavyweight filmmaker at halftime of a Lakers game recently, and he's still raving about his meeting with whom he calls "Mr. Washington," a giant of the American screen.
"Denzel told me, 'Go back to being to Chad. People want to see that swagger. The Chad that's always smiling and wanting to be the best. Have fun. Stop worrying about things you can't control,' " Ochocinco said.
"He's so real, I was wondering if he was serious or in character. And Kobe was quick and to the point. 'Go back in there and show them what you can do. Do what you can control.' "
Last year Ochocinco wanted out because he wanted a new contract and wanted to go to a winner. This year, he simply files that under, "Things I can't control, so I'm not going to worry about it." But he insists he's excited about this year's team, saying it has more talent than the 11-5 Bengals from four years ago.
"We got steals with the first four (draft) picks," he said. "I don't want to say steals, but from what I hear those guys are really nice," he said.
The Ocho ran into new defensive tackle Tank Johnson in Miami over Memorial Day and told him, "I don't know what's happening up there in Cincinnati, but when the season starts, I've got you."
"When's the last time you heard me say something like that?" he asked.
When is the last time he played without fellow Pro Bowl receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh? About the last time he says he was this hungry: 1997-1999 in junior college. He'll miss Houshmandzadeh, he says, but he's also excited about the guys in there now.
"I've been a fan of LC's and his style since his Florida State days," The Ocho said of Houshmandzadeh's replacement, Laveranues Coles. "He's a great competitor who is always doing something great. I promise you this, too: I've only seen him play on TV, but when I'm watching him now, I'll add something that he has.
"We're all different. We all do different things well. I'm sure the coaches will see what we do best and use us that way."
Ochocinco says his interview with the NFL Network shouldn't be interpreted that he "tanked" last season on purpose. He says he simply didn't work as hard as he usually does in the offseason and thought he could still put up big-time numbers. But the lack of weightlifting led to a separated shoulder.
"The injury happened for a reason," said The Ocho, who has no fears about returning to form at 31. "Age doesn't matter."
The cell phone clock approached 25 minutes and The Ocho was talking about how his expression this year is going to be "Child, please." As in, "Chad, can you run any more?"
Another chapter churns and The Ocho says he's ready and he hopes the fans are, too.
"The city's been good to me and I've been good for the city," The Ocho said. "I'm entitled to make a mistake. I'm ready to rebound."