Fairy tale season unfolds

10-1-03, 9 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Chad Johnson kept it going last Sunday.

Kept his rollicking, speed-burner, picture-perfect, put-up-or-shut-up and thoroughly entertaining break-out season going when his startling 55-yard touchdown catch at the end of the first half made possible the Bengals' first victory of the season.

As is his custom, Johnson tethered his cell phone to his ear moments after the game to call back home to Miami. This time he dialed up his brother, Sam.

"It must have been right after the game because he called me wanting to know what his stats were," Sam said.

Here are his 2003 stats: 21 catches for 370 yards, a 17.6 average, three touchdowns, and one fairy tale.

That's what Johnson calls Sam and his sister, Chinita. Sam and Chinita Brown. He calls them brother and sister, but they are his half-brother and half-sister, and Johnson just happened to find them this year and pluck them out of the crowd just like he is snatching footballs and stardom a month into the season.

"It was right after last season. One of my Mom's friends gave me the address and said, 'This is where they stay,'" Johnson says. "I went right over there to introduce myself. They weren't there, but Sam came to my house the next day, and we've been tight ever since. Do you realize I hung around with him at the park playing football and basketball when we were kids and never knew he was my brother? It's a fairy tale."

There's more. There's always more with Chad Johnson. Sam keeps in touch with the father they share, but has the name they don't. Sam Brown Sr.

Chad never knew him. Still doesn't. Chad and his younger brother, Chauncy, took their mother's maiden name of Johnson. Sam Sr. knew who he was, knew he played football at Miami Beach High, and knew he went on to play football in college. But Sam Sr., has been in jail the past six years and never knew he had a son in the NFL until Sam Jr. told him back in January.

"He cried," Sam Jr. said. "I guess they don't get a lot of information in there. The only thing he sees are the highlights on ESPN and that's where he's watched him since I told him. He always asks about him when ever I've talked to him since January."

A few weeks ago after he got benched for a few plays to start a game for what appears to be mouthing off to a coach, Johnson mused that all he cares about is football. And that's where his head is now. If he gets a chance to meet his father, he will.

If not. . .

That's fine, too, because it's all about football now. He's sleeping at Paul Brown Stadium on Wednesday and Thursday nights in the players' lounge after watching tape. He hounds the coaches for about an hour on the players' day off Tuesdays then leaves and comes back at night, and maybe he can sneak a look at the game plan.

You can do that when you live a skinny post pattern away at One Lytle Place, a seven-minute walk to PBS. His bouncy accessibility to everyone from sports scribes to security guards has made him one of the most popular Bengals in recent memory.

He's putting the heat on himself now that running back Corey Dillon is out for Sunday's game in Buffalo.

"Our horse is out. I've got to step it up another level. We all do," Johnson says. "I have to be perfect Sunday with assignments and catching the ball with CD not in there."

His father? He's not even sure why he's in jail, or if he knows, he won't say. Sam Jr., and his mother say it was a probation violation, and that he can be out in a year.

"Really?" Chad asks. "I didn't know that."

It has waited 25 years. Imagine the questions. From the most basic ("What does he look like?") to the toughest ("What happened?"). But all that can wait for football.

"In time," Johnson says. "I'm not really thinking about it right now. Of course I have questions. Of course, there are things I've thought about my whole life. I was going to go visit him once during the offseason. Sam was going to take me. But it didn't work out. I had to leave town. At some point, I guess."

The family says Sam Sr., has been a good father and has been a good provider. Sam Jr. would like to hook them up, but he knows some things have to happen naturally.

"I'm not going to push it," Sam says. "When he's ready, it will happen. They look just alike. Both have the bald heads."

Until then, everyone is enjoying finding each other.

"He came to our door on his birthday. January ninth," Chinita says of Chad. "He just blended in with us right from the start. He's fun to be around."

Chad calls their mother, Sandra, "Sandra B." Sandra would have good reason to shut the door in Chad's face on that 25th birthday. But she embraced him instead.

"I love children. My children mean everything to me," Sandra B. says. "I treat them all the same. All my children's friends call me 'Sandra B.' He's nice and when he calls and I answer, we talk."

Sandra B. lives around 43rd and 42nd streets in the Liberty City section of Miami. Chad grew up with his grandmother scurrying around the same streets and parks, but several blocks away from each other. Talk about so close, yet so far.

"I've known I've had two other brothers my whole life," says Sam Jr., who is a year older than Chad. "I knew their names, but I didn't know their last names. And then to find out that one of them was Chad. If I knew his last name was, 'Brown,' I would have known it was him.

"When I went over to his house the day after he came to my house, I was in shock. You have to understand. We used to hang out. We played 15-and-under, 14-and-under football. We played against each other. We walked home together from the park. I followed him when he went to Oregon (State) and I'm fan of the NFL, but I never watched Cincinnati. He's really a great guy. Once you get to know him. I would pretty much beat him in basketball, but football, he usually cleaned up in football."

Chinita, 33, now tapes every Bengals' game, and has a hard time believing that is her brother out there making all those catches. Sam Jr. says they plan to spend a lot of time together when Chad comes home from the bye weekend of Oct. 10-12.

Most stars might be wary of finding some new family members. In a lot of cases, that would mean giving some things. But Sam Jr., isn't looking for anything.

"Just his love," Sam said. "That's all I want."

Chad is ready with that.

"It's a nice feeling," Johnson says. "All of a sudden, your family gets bigger. It's fun. It's nice to have all the support you can get."

He really has had some great catches this year. Sam can give him the stats. He leads the AFC in receiving yards and yards per catch, but the entire NFL in fairy tales.

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