Houshmandzadeh says, stops short of putting himself before the team. "If he
does stuff that we disagree with," says Houshmandzadeh, "we're gonna
take it up with him ourselves, or Coach will. We keep it on the team. Chad
loves football too much to let anything get in the way."
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 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."
His friend Steve
Smith has also been calling in advance of the upcoming Panthers game, telling
Chad he has "personally blessed" the Panthers cornerbacks. "You're
not gonna see single coverage," Smith tells him. "It's gonna be Cover 2
There has also
been the regular trash-talk call with Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall, a call
that always starts out with Johnson asking, "You get out healthy on
Sunday?" and Hall responding, "Yeah, you?" Then they go at it,
boasting about how they are going to humiliate each other this Sunday. "You
can't cover me," Johnson repeats. "It's ridiculous."
Johnson in his living room are huge acrylic paintings--heroically scaled images
of number 85 in various gridiron-combat poses. Atop the TV and tucked into the
corners of framed photos of Johnson are two-inch-by-two-inch school pictures of
his children. Johnson's greatest regret, he acknowledges, is that he is not as
good a parent as he would like to be. "I don't think I'm the father I need
to be right now," he said a few days earlier. "It doesn't really bother
me that much because once I'm done, I'll have all the time in the world with
them. I've lost a little time. I know I'm missing something valuable--valuable
moments in their life."
Johnson points out
that this is a common dilemma for NFL players who spend so much time away from
their families. "But we never talk about that," Johnson says.
"That's more like what women would talk about.
"My kids come
up for certain games, before it becomes too cold," he says. "Not that
often. I get a weekend here with them, a weekend there. Not that much. I know
I'm missing something. But we'll all be fine."
Another call comes
in. This time it's Jim Rome phoning from his radio show. He also asks if Palmer
is still hesitant because of the injuries. " Chad," he says at one
point, "you can't be happy with your role in the offense."
Johnson does not
take the bait. He knows better.