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Three decades after he learned the game on the streets of Liberty City, football is still the only structure in Johnson's life. He wakes up every morning at 5 a.m. to lift weights in his million-dollar Davie mansion and then works out again just four hours later. From 2003 to 2009, this dedication helped make him the most explosive player in the NFL. He earned five Pro Bowl selections and nearly $9 million a year.
But by 2010, his final year in Cincinnati, his numbers had begun to drop. A big-money move to the New England Patriots in 2011 turned into a disaster, with the once-great receiver catching just 15 passes all season.
That set the stage for last summer's comeback. Johnson got serious. He ditched the name Ochocinco, married Lozada, and signed with his hometown team, the Miami Dolphins.
Then came the head-butt heard around the world, and Johnson's career screeched to a sudden and scandalous stop. The precise moment was captured on the HBO reality TV program Hard Knocks, when Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin axed a contrite Johnson on air.
"I let you down a little bit — a lot," Johnson began. "I apologize for embarrassing you, this organization, my teammates." But it was too late. Philbin fired him anyway.
A year after his onscreen humiliation, Johnson still believes in his own abilities. It's the league in which he's lost faith.
"The world knows I can still play," he says. "There is nothing wrong with me... They just don't want to deal with what comes along with bringing in Chad."
A few days after showing up late to training, Johnson is burning to get back on the field. He pulls into the parking lot of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale with Andrea Bocelli echoing inside his Escalade.
Quinn, shirtless and absurdly inflated like an action figurine, starts rifling passes. Johnson rises high in the air like a fish breaking water, his body forming an inverted Y as he catches the ball. But he also drops a couple of passes, each accompanied by a scream of "Fuck you, man!" directed more at himself than anyone else.
Lightning begins to ripple on the horizon. Soon, an alarm blares, cutting the workout short. As raindrops fall on the synthetic turf, Johnson tells Quinn he wants him to air one out. They line up near the goal line. With a growl, Johnson takes off downfield. Quinn drops back and heaves the ball into the air.
It spirals through space, arching in front of the aging receiver's outstretched hands, and hits the ground with a thud.
"I've been celibate for eight months," Chad Johnson tells the stranger next to him. She has mocha skin, highlighted brown hair, and dark sunglasses hiding Lisa Turtle-like looks. She is also drunk. Johnson is sober, double-fisting cranberry juice and Red Bull. He doesn't know her name, but then again, it's been only five minutes since he plucked her from the crowd along Ocean Drive and sat her next to him at the Pelican.
"Really? Me, a year," she declares just as implausibly. Johnson sets his iPhone down midtweet and leans in close.
"Would you like to make love to me?" he asks in a low voice.
"Would you like to make love to me?" she shoots back.
"Given that it's been so long, a year, eight months, fuck it, why not?" he says nonchalantly. "I'm warning you, though, I get emotionally attached after that shit."
This is Johnson's life now. Without football, what was once a lazy offseason now stretches year-round. Every afternoon he drives an hour south from his house to the Pelican or David's Café on South Beach. There he sits. For hours. Sometimes until midnight. Tweeting random thoughts to his nearly 4 million followers. (One recent nugget of wisdom: "Pick a big girl to date, the sex is phenomenal.")
Instead of dueling with defensive backs, Johnson now battles boredom. He flirts with thousands of women, all while claiming to be celibate and heartbroken. He tweets nonstop. Most of all, he tries to forget about Evelyn.
Johnson began tweeting during his final season in Cincinnati. "At first he didn't get it," says his younger brother, Chauncy. "Now he's addicted." Women send him scandalous photos. Men seek his advice about sex and videogames. Some days, Johnson tweets more than 200 times.
"They know everything [about me] because I put it all out there," he says of his Twitter followers. Whereas most celebrities are guarded, Johnson is proudly unfiltered. "I tweet it all... I've got nothing to hide."
Without a wife or team to rein Johnson in, his antics often go viral. In April, he was hanging out at David's Café when a homeless man named Pork Chop asked him for change to buy beer. Johnson bought the man a 24-pack but told him he had to sit and have dinner with him. Then he took Pork Chop to Urban Outfitters, South Beach nightclub Cameo, and a strip club. He documented their outing with photos on Twitter and Instagram.