(Reuters) - Once the centre of attention, Chad Ochocinco has become the forgotten weapon in the New England Patriots’ offensive arsenal as the AFC champions prepare for their Super Bowl showdown with the New York Giants.
During 10 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Ochocinco was one of the National Football League’s (NFL) most outrageous personalities, a pass-catching diva whose immense talent was surpassed only by his over-the-top touchdown celebrations and antics on and off the field.
But a move to New England this season has seen the six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver slip from the spotlight he embraced and into a role where he set career-lows with 15 catches for 276 yards and just one touchdown.
In New England’s two playoff games this year, Ochocinco was on the field for just one play.
By all accounts Ochocinco has been a model, if unproductive citizen, in New England, Patriots coach Bill Belichick able to do something others were unable to do - keep the fun-loving wide receiver in line.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who had a sideline view for many of Ochocinco’s stunts that included giving a football CPR after a touchdown, proposing to a cheerleader, donning a sombrero and slipping into a homemade Hall of Fame jacket during a game, once referred to his attention seeking pass catcher as “Ocho Psycho.”
During last year’s NFLlockout, Ochocinco sought a tryout with Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City and tried his hand at bull riding.
Belichick, however, does not suffer fools, and new recruits must fit into the Patriots system or they are not part of it for very long.
“Chad has worked hard,” Belichick said this week. “He’s made a very good effort to do everything we’ve asked him to do on and off the field.”
With over 11,000 yards receiving in his career, Ochocinco is among the decade’s best pass catchers, but the 34-year-old has found it difficult adjusting to the Patriots’ complex offensive system that relies heavily on tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and receiver Wes Welker.
At times this season, Ochocinco appeared lost on the field and felt the sting of quarterback Tom Brady’s stare, but if he feels slighted by his diminished role he has not expressed it.
A trip to the February 5 Super Bowl appears reward enough for Ochocinco, who remains one of the NFL’s most popular and social media savvy players with over 3 million followers on Twitter, including Mexican President Felipe Calderon and U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.
“Mr Boehner must be a Bengals fan but he wished me luck in the Big Show,” said Ochocinco on his Twitter account.
Ochocinco’s previous involvement in a Super Bowl was as a correspondent for Ochocinco News Network (OCNN) but he spent as much time answering questions as asking them.
He has shown his moves on Dancing With the Stars and teamed up with fellow flamboyant receiver savant Terrell Owens on and off the field in Cincinnati.
Putting the NFL’s two biggest egos on the same team produced predictable results.
Dubbing themselves Batman and Robin, the self-proclaimed pass-catching dynamic duo of the American gridiron earned better reviews for their performance on their “T.Ocho Show” than for their partnership on the field.
In a story in February’s GQ magazine, Owens said he was “In Hell”, broke, friendless and without a team.
Ochocinco, meanwhile, is in a different place.
“It’s good to be in heaven,” he told reporters after arriving at Patriots training camp.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto