Dierdorf and Gumbel pounced on the name change.
“What do you do when somebody goes, ‘Oh, there’s Chad Johnson!’ How do you respond to that?” Dierdorf asked.
Johnson just shrugged and smiled.
“Do you say, ‘No, that’s not my name anymore’?”
“No,” Johnson said, shaking his head with disbelief. “I’m not that serious about it, man.”
“What do you want us to call you tomorrow?” Dierdorf asked.
“It’s on you.”
“It’s your life,” Dierdorf said. “Your name.”
“Hey, it’s not that serious!” Johnson protested, dismayed at having to explain the joke. “Call me Chad.”
“Did you have your credit cards and driver’s license changed?” Gumbel asked.
Johnson looked pained—a wit trapped in a world with no sense of humor. “No, man, I did it to have the name changed on my jersey, that’s it. And they messed it up. I’m not sure what they’re doing, I just know that they boosted sales of my jersey back to No. 1. It’s a money issue.”
Then Ocho-Cinco, or Johnson, or Chad, ever the showman, left the broadcasters with a tantalizing tip for their broadcast.
“Here’s a hint,” he said. “The first play of the game. I’ll leave it at that. Don’t tell anybody.”
The next morning, Fish passed this bit of inside dope along to his camera crew.
“I will tell you this,” he said. “Whoever is doing far receiver or near receiver, Chad Johnson, whether we can believe him or not, whether it’s the typical player bullshit they give the press, watch for a deep pattern, a deep pass, on the first play from scrimmage… I think they are going to go deep. Johnson says, ‘Just make sure you cover me on the first play.’ That may have just been blah-blah-blah-blah, but actually, some guys tell you the truth and that actually happens.”
When the Bengals took possession for the first time in the game, the TV crew was poised. Moments before coming back from a commercial, Fish reminded his camera operators, “Okay, guys, let’s watch Chad Johnson on this first play.”
In unison, the voices in the trailer counted down the seconds to the return from commercial, “Six. Five. Four.”
“Stand by,” said Fish. “Slow push in.”
“Three. Two. One.”
“Ready five [a close-up of Carson Palmer breaking the offensive huddle],” said Fish. “Aaaaand take five!”
The music started, and as the Bengals quarterback positioned himself over center, Gumbel intoned, Carson Palmer looking for a breakout game today. He has been very un–Carson Palmerlike so far. No TDs, three picks.
“Ready three [the play-by-play camera]. Take three!” said Fish, and then, noting the Bengals’ formation, added, “Two wides! Two wides, that’s all.”
Let’s see if the Bengals try to jump on the Giants in a hurry, said Gumbel, like a man who knew something his viewers did not.
The ball was snapped.
Fish: “Pass! Here it is!”
Only, here it wasn’t. Johnson was racing deep, but the Giants defensive line swamped the quarterback immediately, dropping him for a six-yard loss.