You know he will.
He said the other day he reads everything about himself on the Internet and there have been 587 catches worth of reading about T.J. Houshmandzadeh this past week.
Has a more popular Bengal ever made a return trip to play against his former club? Boomer Esiason never played at Riverfront Stadium as a Jet or Cardinal, so no.
As soon as Houshmandzadeh arrived Saturday afternoon with the Ravens, wide receiver Chad Ochocinco met him at the hotel. Then The Ocho, Batman to his Robin long before Terrell Owens was a twinkle in Carson Palmer’s eye, brought Houshmandzadeh to his house for a few hours.
There is no question his ex-teammates are looking forward to playing against him as much he’s looking forward to playing them. He was a hot topic in the locker room this week.
Cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall talked about the value of going against him in practice every day.
Another player rolled through the texts he has sent back and forth with him since he made his Ravens debut last Monday night.
Several had varying imitations of him exploding in frustration on the field, whether it be against the refs, the coaches, or just the circumstances. You could have taken an over-under on when he’ll first rip off his chinstrap Sunday, then arms upraised, venting at the powers-that-be.
That frustration went a long way in sullying his good guy reputation last year in Seattle after eight seasons of popularity in Cincinnati. It was a tough year on the Pacific and, as usual, Houshmandzadeh wore his heart on his sleeve and told people about it and he became known as a locker-room lawyer.
Which is a funny thing.
It is all a matter of perception. Same guy, different view.
In Cincinnati, where he worked his way up from a seventh-round pick, to almost getting cut by new head coach Marvin Lewis, to becoming Palmer’s most reliable target, to a Pro Bowl running mate for The Ocho, Houshmandzadeh was seen as a smart, candid, hard-working team guy who didn’t mind that his former college teammate got the spotlight.
But in Seattle, where he had No. 1 numbers and No. 1 money, the spotlight did a strange thing. The candor became portrayed as cancer. Smart became conniving. Speaking out to the coaches to lobby his ideas became an act of defiance instead of leadership.
As Houshmandzadeh said this week, he was amazed that his reputation took such a shot in one year.
Now, there’s no question his volatile personality got him in trouble with the Bengals coaches. His clashes with Lewis about cutting back practice were legendary and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski had to smile last week when he was asked about how difficult he was.
“We got him out of some habits,” he said.
There may be too much water under the bridge, now, but the bottom line is they knew Houshmandzadeh. He might have been difficult at times, but, in the end, they offered him the kind of money he was seeking. They knew he was a gamer and a fierce competitor that made them a better team.
In the end, of course, everyone learned a lesson and Houshmandzadeh was so candid about that last week, wasn’t he? Houshmandzadeh found out that the Bengals and their fans accepted him for what he is, volatility and all, while the Seahawks and Seattle saw it all so differently.
And, no doubt, if the Bengals knew in August of ’08 that Laveranues Coles and Antonio Bryant would not pan out, they may very well have offered the money then instead of in March.
What’s it all mean?
It means that on Sunday, Houshmandzadeh should get a rousing welcome at Paul Brown Stadium. Bengaldom figures to stand as one and honor long and loud one of the key figures that helped legitimize the franchise. Think of all those third-down catches, the red-zone touchdowns, the long balls against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the fierce pride that might have stepped on some toes but also won some big games.
Welcome back, Housh. Thanks for the memories.
Here’s to a great reception.
But not 10 receptions.
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