Monday, December 21, 2009

Chris Henry's Death Inspires Chad Ochocinco and Bengals

He wisely dropped to his knees, lifted his head and pointed skyward after sprinting in a well-executed route and catching a 49-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer.

In a moment of grief, Chad Ochocinco’s solace was to pay tribute to the late Chris Henry. It was a time the Cincinnati Bengals played with heavy hearts, but there was no one with a heavier heart than Ochocinco. At the time, reality set in, the entire team mourned the loss of Henry.

Earlier in the week, Ochocinco promised to wear the No. 15 jersey to honor his friend, but reevaluated and had class for the league’s wishes. If he wore the No. 15 jersey, the league would have slapped him with a fine, even though the Players Association announced it would reimburse him. But he had tremendous respect and remembered his teammate in a mature fashion.

There was no showboating in the end zone, such as river dancing, camera shooting, or the mustard jacket fitting act. It was done politely at Qualcomm Stadium, where he mourned the death of Henry in a different way than his teammates.

Prior to emerging from the visitors’ tunnel, Ochocinco was discovered teary-eyed trying to soothe and mitigate pain in the aftermath of a freak accident that cut Henry’s life short. Sad thing is, he had turned his life around and mellowed into an inspirational player, symbolizing the Bengals’ organization. Scary thing is, he was only 26-years old and started to elude the criminal lifestyle. But more senseless is, he left behind three children and his fiancée, Loleini Tonga.

Any time there is a death in the workplace, someone will grieve. Much of the week, Ochocinco has been the emotional one, reflecting on the situation more deeply than his teammates. He spent countless minutes in front of Henry’s locker, and he mourned and dripped tears on Thursday. By game time, he couldn’t control his emotions and had a similar mood against the Chargers on Sunday.

It’s obvious if he were able to pay a bigger tribute, he would have, but a lesser expose honoring Henry was handled well. Before using poor judgment, Ochocinco pondered on whether it was appropriate to wear his jersey. Not only was he thinking about his teammates, but Henry as well. Most of all, he wasn’t planning to wear his jersey for attention, but to dedicate the moment to a good friend he’ll truly miss.

Throughout his career, Ochocinco has been involved in a ruckus with the media. Given the history, he’d created a distraction in Sunday’s game. But instead he was selfless to honor the death of a player in a way he could please himself without disrupting the team or putting on a huge act. Even better is, he hung the No. 15 jersey in a locker stall. There was an empty locker, and had a 15 nameplate above the stall to represent the late Henry.

For a while, the Bengals will need time to recover from a devastating tragedy, which ended badly and created raw emotions. In what seems surreal is happening before our very eyes every day. And unfortunately, Henry fell out of a moving pickup truck driven by his fiancée last Wednesday in what police believed the incident was a domestic dispute. But seeing a man turn his life around, without having a chance to redeem a notorious background is unfortunate.

Ochocinco is devastated, agonized of the tragic death. He’s mourning the death of a friend, realizing he’s gone eternally. This is a downcast period for the Bengals, not only losing 27-24 against San Diego, but having to bury a friend and teammate. As a team, the Bengals will travel to New Orleans for the funeral on Tuesday, where teammates can share their final moments and lay Henry to rest.

Heavy burdens existed in a significant game, but the Bengals goal was to win. All that matters is each of them played with a heavy heart, which describes a winner. Winners remember a fallen teammate in any given situation. Winners pay tribute to a teammate who dies.

Ochocinco handled it with grace and character, while managing to produce effectively. During the game, there were somber moments, but he finished with three receptions for 70-yards and a touchdown, and had a 26-yard run.

At 9-5, the Bengals are still the AFC North leaders. By controlling their destiny, they can signify great things within the division, and stun us in the postseason with all the intangibles and unity. Riding off the inspiration of Henry puts the Bengals in contention. There’s nothing wrong in jumping to assumptions of insightful star power and motivation, when a team’s state of mind is affected by the lost of a close friend or teammate.

For those keeping track, Cincinnati hasn’t had much playoff fortune. The team is en route to only its second playoff appearance in 19 years. Maybe the Bengals can persist in their superlative year, with the inspiration of Ochocinco sharing and refreshing teammates of memorable times.

Sure, he may have something missing up stairs, with a last name as a number. But he’s the inspirational face of the franchise.

Thanks to No. 85, spirit is contagious.