The marriage was doomed at "I do."
Chad Ochocinco and the New England Patriots were never a match. Problem is, everyone focused on the wrong flaws.
Where the question was "Can he buckle down and abide?", it should have been "Can he play?" Or, more specifically, "Can he play here?"
When he called Foxboro "Heaven," who dared doubt him? With Tom Brady at Point A and Ochocinco at Point B, who didn't see at least 30 yards of turf stretched between their connection? The equation was so simple: Elite quarterback plus elite receiver equals . . .
Really, he should have been laughed at. Or he should have offered the idea to Disney for a flat fee and 50 percent of royalties.
Football players aren't delivered to glory in Foxboro. There's no Divine Right. There is the Patriot Way, and its foundation is hard work and humility.
Any veteran -- special teamer or star receiver -- who ends up in New England says the same thing about the system: He's never before experienced such expectation for perfection. Ever.
Ocho said it himself.
"That's what it's like around here," he told Jason Cole in January. "Everybody is pushing for perfection, and they're pushing hard. I've never seen anything like it in my whole career. You understand why this team is where it is . . . Tom is on you about the littlest things, that you were a step off where you should be or the angle is wrong or whatever it is. Really, he has me walking on eggshells, and I haven't done that since I was a rookie."
Talent alone can't save you in this town. And maybe that's where the disconnect was -- for Ocho and for all. When he took the field, the No. 85 on his back stood for seven 1,000-plus yard receiving seasons. It promised 70-yard touchdown catches. For all the weapons the Patriots offense had, this -- deep wideout threat -- was the one they lacked. The one that would make them unstoppable.
For it all to fall apart because he wouldn't, or couldn't, learn the system? Inconceivable.
When Ochocinco dropped passes in training camp, it was dismissed as growing pains. When he caught just three balls in preseason, it was shrugged off as the rich's irresponsibility for time. When he said he was content to play receiver-by-committee -- The Brand surrendering to The Common Good -- it was seen as blushing modesty.
He'd grown up. He'd matured. Hell, maybe he just wanted a ring.
Except, again, this is the Patriots we're talking about. The bottom line is clear: "Do your job." The subtext: "No free rides."
But Ocho couldn't pay.
He's a man who never wanted to do homework. He struggled in high school and college -- blowing off classes for whatever else. Talent was always there to grab him by the scruff and keep him in the game.
In Cincinnati, he was the offense. In New England, he had to start over. And it was complex. The Patriots wouldn't bend to meet him. In fact, they'd scoff at the thought.
"All he needs is time. He didn't have an offseason. He'll put his head in the playbook this spring," the chorus sang.
Why think that? He'd never done it before. He didn't even do it during his most successful years in Black and Orange. The Boston Globe's Greg Bedard writes that Ocho wasn't brilliant so much as Carson Palmer and the Bengals "had a feel for where he would end up" and met him there.
But we didn't see that. Maybe the Patriots didn't see that before bringing him in.
Trouble happened when Brady found out. Early.
Think a 34-year old, control-freak quarterback wants to patiently develop a 33-year old diva receiver?
Wes Welker leads the league in receptions because of his unique chemistry with Brady. The Deion Branch Comeback Tour is beginning Year Three because he and Brady rekindled their flame quickly. Rob Gronkowski's first career reception was for just one yard, but earned his quarterback a touchdown. Brady and Aaron Hernandez clicked just as quickly.
This offseason's glut of veteran receiver acquisitions -- Donte' Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd -- point to a singular need: Proven talent. Whether or not Ochocinco still has soft hands and fleet feet, he lacks the most important thing a Patriots receiver needs.
So given retrospect's cruel clarity, we can say that no, Chad Ochocinco can't play -- not here.
We knew it wouldn't work. We just didn't know why.