Chad Johnson, golden Mohawk and all in a Halloween haze of Bengals colors, dominates the front of the Sports Illustrated issue that hits newsstands Wednesday.
Which is also the day he says he plans to return to his old trash-talking self and come out of his season-long cocoon.
And the Bengals have suddenly become a staple in the SI staples. After 17 years of no covers and just four covers in the 21 years before that, this is the third Bengals cover in the last five months.
After hearing that SI deemed him cover worthy, Johnson exclaimed Tuesday, "Wednesday? That's funny because that's when I'm going to go back to being my old self."
"Marvin, I love you to death," is how Johnson is going to explain it to head coach Marvin Lewis. "Trust me. It's for the good of the team."
The magazine asks, "Trick or Treat: Is the NFL's Bad Boy Really Good Guy?"
The writer, Karl Taro Greenfeld, decides it's the latter in what SI spokesman Rick McCabe characterizes as the type of long in-depth feature that is the magazine's signature.
Johnson had yet to see the magazine or story Tuesday afternoon, but he feels like he needs to be a little bad to be good.
Or at least better.
"I'm not having fun. I wake up. I go to work. I come home. That's boring," Johnson said of his reserved persona that he has had for most of this season. "It's too dull. I go out for games and I'm flat. I don't talk. I need to use my mouth to get motivated. I don't feel I have the motivation."
This week it's easy to go back to Chad because he and Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall have been torturing each other with trash since the Pro Bowl. While Johnson has turned his individual cornerbacks checklist into a team checklist, "Atlanta Oct. 29" is the only one in red.
"I'm going to turn the 'H' into an 'F,' " Johnson said. "DeAngelo Hall will turn into DeAngelo Fall."
Johnson said that Lewis hasn't censored him during this season in which not only are his numbers down from his three previous Pro Bowl seasons, but also his bombastic sound bites.
"He's told me from time to time to tone it down, but he hasn't (muzzled) me," Johnson said. "It's all in fun. I'm not going to offend anyone. I just have to get back to myself. Talking. Trash talking to everybody out there. I need to pick up my play."
SI pretty much concludes that Johnson isn't offensive, as noted in this passage:
- "On a recent Tuesday afternoon at his three-story town house near Cincinnati's Eden Park, Johnson sits on a red suede sofa and rolls through a morning's worth of interviews—local radio stations, ESPN radio, NFL radio. Every host asks Johnson if something's wrong with (Carson) Palmer, hoping, Johnson says, to bait him into a slap at his quarterback.
"You know what would happen if I show frustration?" says Johnson. "Man, the media, everybody will kill me. I would be like fresh meat. T.O. all over again. They really want to see me and Carson go at it. I can't feed into that."*
This SI cover comes just a month after linebacker Caleb Miler adorned the front for an account of the Bengals 28-20 victory over the Steelers. Palmer made the May 23 cover for his rehab from reconstructive knee surgery.
"The Bengals covers have come in a variety of forms," McCabe said. "Last month it was a news story, and before that it was an offseason feature story. And the story on Chad is the long feature, a profile. It's in the middle of the football season, the Bengals are doing well, and there's always a lot of talk about Chad.
"And the Mohawk doesn't hurt."
When they closed up the magazine Monday night, one of the editors observed how the cover's colors matched the Halloween week.
"I think that was more coincidence than anything," McCabe said. "It's all timing. It's between the baseball playoffs and it's likely next week will be a World Series cover."