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It's Good to Be Chad
KARL TARO GREENFELD
October 30, 2006
Bengals wideout CHAD JOHNSON is proof that you can shoot your mouth off without tearing your team apart, that you can goad opponents and still be liked and, best of all, that you can have fun in the NFL
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October 30, 2006

It's Good To Be Chad

Bengals wideout CHAD JOHNSON is proof that you can shoot your mouth off without tearing your team apart, that you can goad opponents and still be liked and, best of all, that you can have fun in the NFL

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"For this," Johnson says, pointing at the Lamborghini, "right here."

The valet nods and trots off.

What might be confusing the valet is that Johnson has four cars parked within a one-mile radius of this South Beach intersection. There is this Lamborghini, a classic 1973 Chevrolet Caprice parked back on Euclid Ave., a black Dodge Charger down the block and a Cadillac Escalade somewhere in the neighborhood. Johnson's crew rolled up to Wet Willie's in South Beach a few hours ago in Chad's various rides and held court at a second-floor round table, his old neighborhood buddies Vest Jones and J.B. Blige and Chad's half brother, Sam Brown, ordering frozen drinks with names like Call A Cab and Attitude Improvement, and plates of quesadillas and nachos, while Johnson nursed a bottle of water. (He doesn't drink alcohol.) The boys were talking about a high school football game that night--"What time is Miami Central playing? They good?"--when a gorgeous sister in a tight white tank top and white jeans walked up and squeezed Johnson from behind, slid her hands into one of his oversized pants pockets and said, "Where you been, Pocket Boy?"

"Oh," Johnson said, smiling, "she been stalking me. What's up? Where you been?"

"Stalking you?" the woman responded. "You been stalking me."

Johnson laughed and rubbed his cheek against the woman's side. "O.K.," he said. "Don't get mad."

"I can't stay mad at you," she said, smiling.

Now here she is again, out here on Ocean Drive, strolling over all bouncy and well-coiffed. Johnson slides over to her, around a sidewalk table where a family has been trying to focus on its chicken wings, and gives her a reassuring hug. "I'll call you later," he promises.

Where is that damn key?

At 28, Chad Johnson is in the prime of a career that may be redefining what has become the most mediagenic position in professional sports--and its hottest in terms of controversy. The genealogy of the blinged-out, outspoken, touchdown-celebrating wide receiver runs straight from Keyshawn Johnson through Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. Chad Johnson's predecessors were dominant athletes on the field, naturally gifted and defiantly assertive playmakers who could change a game, or a season, with one grab. They became exemplars of what is transcendent about modern professional football (there may be nothing more beautiful in pro sports than a perfectly executed up route) and what is maddening about it (huge egos can destroy a team's chemistry). Though compulsively watchable, those once putative heirs to Jerry Rice appear destined to be ultimately disappointing, as they lug their heavy baggage from team to team.

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