Receivers running the same pattern
By Jason Whitlock
Page 2 columnist

Have you noticed that there is a common denominator in all these embarrassing, self-promotional NFL antics?

You figured out yet what Joe Horn's cell phone has in common with Chad Johnson's end-zone billboard and Keyshawn Johnson's feud with Jon Gruden and Terrell Owens' pom poms and Randy Moss' sideline tantrums?

Chad Johnson
Chad Johnson's just auditioning for a career after football.
It's rather obvious, and it has nothing at all do with race. Oh, you may have done some bantering at your local watering hole about how black athletes are just more expressive and more flamboyant than their white counterparts. And there might be a bit of truth in that.

But that's not the tie that binds Horn to Owens and Johnson to Johnson and Moss to Deion Sanders. This is: They're all wide receivers.

I wish I could take credit for discovering the link. But it was actually my talk radio partner, Fox NFL broadcaster Bill Maas, who tied everything together for me. Like most football fans, we spent much of Monday morning analyzing the impact of Horn's cell-phone celebration and speculating on just how many wireless endorsement deals will come Joe's way.

Maas, a former NFL defensive lineman, pointed out that modern-day receivers have turned their position into a non-contact endeavor.

"Football is a violent game,'' Maas said. "The guys who run their mouths and draw attention to themselves are the guys who can avoid contact. You don't see running backs running their mouths because they know they're gonna get hit on almost every play. But receivers have figured out how to run their routes to avoid safeties. They'll step out of bounds. They'll fall to the ground if they see a safety coming. And nobody goes over the middle anymore.''

That's the tie that binds Horn to Keyshawn and Owens to Johnson. These guys can avoid paying an on-field penalty for their antics, for their arrogance. Horn, a guy I personally like, couldn't care less about the league's $30,000 fine. He'll make 10 times that in wireless phone endorsements.

And Horn certainly isn't worried about becoming a target on the field. Receivers dictate the amount of punishment they receive. Surely you saw Randy Moss alligator-arm an important, over-the-middle pass late in the Vikings' loss to the Chicago Bears. No one ever criticized Cris Carter or Tim Brown -- two classy pass-catchers -- for falling to the ground before first contact.

Randy Moss
Randy Moss is looking over his shoulder so he knows exactly when to step out of bounds.
Receivers have turned stepping out of bounds into an art form. Seriously, Moss makes Franco Harris look like Charles Bronson in Death Wish. I mean, Jim Brown turned Franco into a Hall of Fame laughingstock, and Franco was twice as tough as most of today's NFL receivers.

You want to stop Horn and his cell phone? Don't fine him. Make him line up inside the tackles and expose him to Ray Lewis and Zach Thomas and Brian Urlacher. As long as Horn can stay out wide in space, as long as he can control his contact, he's going to act a fool and pay the fines. And I don't blame him.

Deion Sanders, one of my all-time favorite NFLers, is another non-contact, loud-mouthed showboater. Deion covered his receiver well just so he could avoid making a tackle. And Deion danced and pranced with the best of them. Did he ever pay a price for his antics? Hell, no. Unless you consider the scratchy catfight he had with another no-contact showboater, Andre Rison, a penalty. You remember when Deion and Andre tried to rip each other's blouses ... I mean jerseys ... off and scratch each other's eyes out?

Deion is now the NFL's best pregame talking-head.

That same $1-million-a-year fate probably will await Joe Horn when he's through tip-toeing around defensive backs. Horn always called himself "Hollywood" when he played in Kansas City. In his four years with the Chiefs. he rarely played; but he carried himself as though he were one of the league's bigger stars. The same over-the-top personality that is getting Horn ripped this week will get him paid when his career is over.

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicked Keyshawn's big mouth to the curb, guess where Me-Shawn landed? At FOX, gabbing about the game with Terry, Howie, Jimmy and James. Guess where Michael Irvin hangs his mink coat on Sundays these days? Bristol, home of ESPN.

We in the media can bitch and moan about how the extracurricular activity is "ruining" the game. Hell, we promote the extracurricular activity. You couldn't turn on an NFL show this week without seeing Joe Horn and his cell phone. It was generally followed by clips of Chad Johnson's hidden sign and Owens playing in the snow.

The pussycats are winning. They always do. They get the women. They leave the game in relatively good health. And they get the big-time TV gigs. Pussycats run the world. That's not news.

Jason Whitlock is a columnist for the Kansas City Star (kcstar.com) and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of "The Sports Reporters." He also hosts an afternoon radio show, "The Doghouse," on Kansas City's 61 Sports KCSP. He can be reached at ballstate68@aol.com.





A WILD WIDE

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