The “whole thing” McHugh was referring to was a domestic abuse case in which Johnson missed a probation meeting, but she may as well have been referring to Johnson’s life as whole.
Over the past decade-and-a-half, Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens have defined the era of the “diva” receiver in the NFL. During their careers, both players were tremendously productive and clear of the police blotter—but their incessant antics on and off the field will define their careers as much as their ability to run routes and catch footballs.
Through their ways of persistent entertainment, Owens and Johnson have united as peers, friends, teammates, reality show stars, and now, visitor and inmate in a county jail.
After spectacular careers that are worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, both men have taken a tremendous fall from grace, as football can no longer act as a branch to overshadow their character flaws.
How exactly did each player wind up in the position they are in today? To get a full understanding of their respective downfalls, we must first appreciate just how good each player was in his prime.
On the Field
You can dissect their characters all you want, but there is no disputing the fact that Owens and Johnson were among the best receivers of their generation.
From a statistical perspective, Owens was the more dominant receiver, especially in his prime in the early 2000s with the Eagles. His numbers alone would make him a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame—as long as the voters don’t hold his character flaws against him.
Meanwhile, Johnson (or Ochocinco, depending on the season) was no slouch. While his production may fall just short of Hall of Fame consideration, he ranks in the top 50 for each receiving category. During his prime, with a healthy Carson Palmer throwing to him in the mid-2000s, Johnson was a dominant receiver who struck real fear into opposing defenses.
As productive as they were at the NFL level, few would have thought that these two would have had such tremendous on-field careers in their college and high school days. Owens was just a third-round pick out of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga—not exactly a hotbed for NFL talent.
Meanwhile, Johnson did not even play football in his early days at Langston University. It was not until he transferred to Oregon State by way of Santa Monica Community College did Johnson land on the radar of NFL scouts to be a second-round pick.
While they were both gifted athletes, Johnson and Owens did not go from small-school studs to NFL domination on pure talent alone.
Because of their immature demeanor, it would be easy to peg Johnson and Owens as immense talents who just had to show up to play well, but that was hardly the case.
Owens, in particular, is well known for keeping himself in Hercules-like shape, no matter what his age is. Even now, with his NFL future as bleak as it has ever been, Owens is still keeping himself in shape and running routes as if he was going to suit up next week.