Is Ochocinco's name game a sign to Patriots?

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 26, 2011 11:47 AM

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ochocincofinnbrady.jpgGiven his recently stated desire on Twitter to play for the Patriots, we conspiracy theorists here at The Buzz can't help but wonder:

Is Chad Johnson's Ochocinco's Johnson's latest name change part of his plan to hopefully change teams?

The Bengals receiver told host Trey Wingo on ESPN's "NFL Live" last night that he plans on changing his name back to Johnson, three years after he legally changed his surname to Ochocinco in 2008 so he could wear his self-awarded nickname above the No. 85 on his jersey.

(This is the part where our four years of C-plus grades in high school Spanish requires us to note that 85 in Spanish is actually ochenta y cinco. We're pretty sure Johnson couldn't care less, since Ochocinco does sound much cooler.)

Johnson/Ochocinco told Wingo that the name change isn't official yet and he hasn't filed the paper work, but he plans to follow through on it.

"I've done enough with the Ocho thing," he said.

So how does this have anything to do with the Patriots? Simple. The receiver has expressed a desire to play for the Patriots and Bill Belichick a couple of times this offseason, most recently when he sent a message on Twitter to the Herald's Ian Rapoport saying, PePe and Bill #EPIC. (FYI, PePe is another nickname Johnson/Ochocinco has for himself.)

At least in a symbolic sense, the name change could signify Johnson/Ochocinco/PePe's desire for a fresh start as well as him sending a signal to Belichick that he's willing to immerse himself in the no-nonsense Patriot Way, where no one changes their last name on a whim and daring to make subversive foot jokes in a press conference is a punishable offense.

While this might be the most obvious case ever of opposites attracting (save for maybe Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett), the reality is that Belichick and Johnson are simpatico.

The coach's admiration of Johnson/Ochocinco/PePe is mutual and genuine. It dates back to a pre-draft workout in 2001 at Southern Cal when Johnson boldly showed up with an Oregon State flag waving atop his car.

They bonded further when Belichick coached him at the 2006 Pro Bowl. When the Patriots played the Bengals in their season opener this year, Belichick sought out the receiver after the game and gave him the kind of friendly embrace Eric Mangini probably always dreamed of.

Belichick spoke fondly of the day after the Patriots lost to the Bengals during the 2009 exhibition season while acknowledging that they are a bit of an odd pairing.

I dont know if you can say Chad and I are a lot alike, said Belichick. Maybe in some ways we are. But yeah, I respect that about Chad. His enthusiasm for the game and the competitive level that he brings. Though, I dont like playing against him because hes a good player, hes hard to defend.

"I remember when I worked Chad out on the USC campus when he came out for the draft a few years ago. We had a great visit and workout and kind of stayed in touch with him in situations like last night when we play them, before the game and that type of thing, and also at the Pro Bowl a few years ago. We had a chance to spend a week together, along with a lot of other players. Hes a fun-loving guy, very competitive. When hes on the field, he loves to compete and he works very hard, practices hard. He challenges guys in every situation. I respect that, I think hes a terrific player. I love his competitiveness. Hes a hard guy to compete against. Hes very good.

So would Belichick consider bringing him to the Patriots now? Sure, but we're betting it doesn't happen in the end. The Patriots coach is nothing if not prudent, and while the Johnson/Ochocinco/PePe of three or four years ago he would have been a perfect fit, he's lost a step or two at age 30. And the Patriots' biggest need at receiver is someone who can stretch the field.

Of course, if he shows up at Gillette this offseason with a Jets flag waving off his car, who knows what could happen . . .

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