Johnson will try to start over on team known for resurrections
Cincinnati Bengals have several resurrected players on roster
Bengals preach team unity, which makes L.J. a risky acquisition
Cedric Benson has made it clear he's not thrilled with the transaction
Larry Johnson came to the right place. He fell out of favor in Kansas City and into the feather bed in Cincinnati. The Bengals are Lazarus' Team. Or maybe, Emma Lazarus':
"Give us your tired, your poor, your unemployed;
"Your huddled castoffs, misfits, assaulters of women and the occasional convicted felon, yearning to be paid.''
"This is where the dead come to be resurrected,'' said backup quarterback Jordan Palmer.
We can roll our eyes all we want. We can offer religion about the propriety of signing a player who has been charged four times, and convicted twice, of assaulting women. We can snicker at the Bengals, who bottom-feed better than a 50-pound carp, and have for decades. Righteous anger has its place. It ain't in the National Football League, where it inconveniences winning.
You see another entitled football player, rewarded for his boorishness because someone thinks he can still play. The Bengals see a big, experienced back whom they will pay a mere $255,290 because they think he can still play.
Sometimes resurrection works, as it has this year in the Queen City, where a grateful group of Lazarii have helped the Bengals to a 7-2 start. Sometimes resurrection results in lots of phone calls at 4 a.m. Who knows where it will lead with Larry Johnson?
Johnson arrived Tuesday, bearing humility and contrition, saying some of the right things about knowing his place on the depth chart and needing to prove himself and so forth. He apologized again for using his Twitter account as a platform to slur gays and slam Chiefs head coach Todd Haley.
He seemed to get it. They all do at the news conference.
(By the way before he was bum-rushed out of K.C., Johnson took some time to mock the folks who responded angrily to his tweets: "Make me regret it. Lmao. U don't stop my checks. Lmao. So 'tweet' away."
Well it's good to see Johnson's learned from his mistakes. Lmao.)
In Cincinnati, where the team's success is dominating the headlines, newscasts, cyberspace traffic and conversations between total strangers, the worry was how Johnson might impact the Bengals locker-room chemistry. Not a lot was said about the club doing what it's always done, in seeking the lowest common denominator guy and putting him on the roster.
Maybe after all these years, we're immune.
Ironically, the good-guy factor is way up there in the home locker room. Marvin Lewis has removed the problem kids from his playhouse. He replaced them with second-chancers who have led a one-for-all renaissance that has helped Cincinnati's strong start.
Check the half-year all-star teams. There are no Bengals. For one autumn, they've taken the "concept'' out of team concept. That would make the acquisition of Johnson, suspended four games last year for conduct detrimental, a little curious in most places. Not in Cincinnati.
According to Bengals players, familiarity breeds acceptance. Explained safety Chris Crocker, "A lot of guys in this locker room shouldn't be here, [if] you look at their past.'' Players might have questioned the signing -- "We've got something going as far as team chemistry. How is [Johnson] going to affect that?'' Crocker wondered -- but then they shrugged and got their ankles taped.
"One individual can't make or break us,'' said guard Bobbie Williams. Johnson, Williams added, "Seems like a nice guy. Who knows?''
Yeah, who knows? Who really knows anything for sure about Larry Johnson?
No flags leaned at half-mast when the Chiefs paid Johnson $3 million to go away, even after he gave them 5,996 yards, 55 touchdowns and more than his share of something to cheer about. The guy worships the game, even as he smudges its image.
He had the seats of one of his cars reupholstered with throwback jerseys of old school running backs. He knows NFL history and was humbled when a pair of his cleats ended up in the Hall of Fame.
Johnson's bio in the Chiefs' media guide lists his participation in several area charities, benefiting children. Charity work is mandated in every Chiefs contract. Still, Johnson went above and beyond. He could be approachable to fans and gracious to media. He could also be rude to fans, ignore the media and abusive to women.
None of which bothers the Bengals, at all. "We don't judge guys on what everybody else has said about them,'' Crocker said.
What the team hopes will happen is this: Johnson comes in, acts the Boy Scout, massages his image by keeping his head down and busting his tail, then signs elsewhere next season.
Something else: The players are fond of Cedric Benson, whose injured hip provoked Johnson's signing. Marvin Lewis knows the players like Benson. And as Carson Palmer said, Lewis "is always harping to players, 'This is your team.' The best teams are run by the players. That's the type of locker room we have.''
If Benson can play, he will play, regardless of what Johnson does. Benson also made it clear he wasn't thrilled with the transaction: "This is a business. Sometimes, things can happen in a strange way. I didn't know I was supposed to be jumping out of my seat about it.''
You're not. But you came to Cincinnati on the same sunset train, last September, when nobody wanted you, either. How'd that work out?
"This is who we are,'' Crocker said, "and this is what we do.''
For better or worse.
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