About Face

Chad Johnson's mouth gets him a lot of attention. But his game is what helped turn the Bengals around.

Originally Published: December 8, 2003
By Tom Friend | ESPN The Magazine

Watch the Bengals sideline closely -- yes, their games are sometimes televised -- and you might see a gold-toothed wide receiver telling Marvin Lewis, I got your back. Might see him telling Marvin's assistants the same thing: I got yours ... and yours ... and yours. It's to the point now that they all believe him, believe a mouth can break a 12-year hex.

Lewis may be the coach who resuscitated them, and Jon Kitna may be the rube who carries them, but this wide receiver is the new wild-eyed face of the Bengals. He guarantees wins against undefeated teams. He dials Lewis' cell phone just to say, "What you doin'?" He sleeps at Paul Brown Stadium two nights a week. He sits in on team marketing meetings. He hugs and kisses the bald owner. He puts his football card in with his thigh pads. He sits up at night thinking of questions for Jerry Rice. He plans end zone skits. He wears a Jheri curl wig to practice. He tells anyone who will listen, "We're gonna shock the world."

His sound bites reek of self-promotion, but if ever a team needed swagger, it's this one. Since their last playoff berth in 1990, the Bengals have averaged 11 losses a year, and they were 0-3 this season until they took the field in Cleveland behind a wide receiver in neon-orange cleats.

Tom Friend

ESPN Senior Writer
Tom Friend is a senior writer for and a features reporter for ESPN TV. He has formerly worked for the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Sports Daily, Kansas City Star and San Jose Mercury News.