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For Ocho, all the world's a stage, just not a podium

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He's been envisioning this day for years.

What football player hasn't?

To be officially recognized and introduced as a player on a Super Bowl squad on Media Day? It doesn't get much more glamorous than this.

Like Hollywood starlets on a red carpet before an awards show, players get all dressed up. No long gowns here – not on the players, at least, but more on that in a moment – but the guys get to show off their sparkling clean uniforms with the Super Bowl logo patches.

They spend an hour mugging for the cameras, answering any and every question lobbed their way by reporters. Some legitimate; others not so much. That goes for both the questions and the people asking them. Let's just say the credential requirements are relaxed quite a bit on Media Day.

Chad Ochocinco has experienced this before, as the one doing the asking as a member of his own personal news network. Never, though, has he been one of the lucky few at the center of attention.

Until today.

And it looked like it was tearing him apart inside.

This is supposed to be a fairy tale come true, right?

"You could say that. It happens …" he shrugged with a forced insouciance, "but … I don't know. It hasn't hit me yet."

For someone with Ochocinco's prolific pedigree and effervescent personality, you'd expect him to be propped up on one of those regal podiums that they trot out to the field for Media Day. The highest-profile players on each team are assigned those plush perches. And in the NFL – in pop culture, for that matter – they don't get much more high profile than the former Chad Johnson.

Even many of the lesser-known players get name cards and a comfy seat in the stands from which to entertain the insatiable media hordes. Those whose names are barely familiar in even the most ardent fans' homes are relegated to milling about on the sideline, left to drown amid a sea of humanity.

That's where we found Ochocinco on this Media Day.

He was one of the last Patriots to arrive, perhaps by design. While reporters and their cameras got distracted as they rushed to get the best spots for Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Rob Gronkowski, et al, Ocho snuck quietly onto the field and into the bumper-car of bodies before someone noticed him.

Soon after, he was swarmed.

He got the conversation started by explaining that he was four years old when he first starting fantasizing about this day.

"I've set many goals, accomplished all those goals, and this was the last one, to get on this stage and get a chance to earn a ring …Now, it's in the moment," he said, shaking his head in disbelief, "and I'm going to enjoy it."

But it didn't look like he was having fun. More like he was biting his tongue.

That was plain to see when someone asked if he thought he was actually going to play in this Super Bowl.

It seemed to take every ounce of strength Ochocinco had not to eviscerate his interlocutor. He finally settled on a terse, "Next question," and a turn of his head in the opposite direction.

It's been that kind of year for Ocho. And we all know why. He hasn't been the "Chad" we're used to seeing, on or off the field. He's been hand-cuffed and gag-ordered, metaphorically speaking, and he knew it was coming. Hell, he asked for it, openly lobbying (via his Twitter account) to become a Patriot.

"Pepe (one of his self-imposed nicknames) and BB (Bill Belichick) … epic," he tweeted to his 3 million or so followers about a year ago. And then it happened.

A case of "careful-what-you-wish-for?"

"It's been an adjustment. The year wasn't what I expected or anyone else expected," he admitted.

"I did everything I was supposed to do: worked, stayed quiet. I'm not sure if being on this stage will be the reward, but there's nothing else I can do. I'm part of a team, and I did everything asked of me."

And now his team is in the Super Bowl, but not because of him. Which you can just tell from his body language is bittersweet for him.

You could also tell by the way he vacillated when describing his emotions this Super Bowl week.

Getting a ring wouldn't erase all those frustrations?

He paused for a moment to ponder the question.

"Nah," he said.

Why not?

"I don't know, it just wouldn't."

Has it been that tough a season?

"It's not tough. It's football … one abnormal year. One year doesn't negate years of success. It's been worth it."

With or without a ring, he insisted, "It's been a great learning experience. Just reaching this point, us handling business, would be epic, in any sense. I've never experienced this before. This is the ultimate goal. It's cool, it's nice … I'm enjoying it. I'm going to have fun come Sunday.

"Why wouldn't I be having fun?" he asked rhetorically. "It's the Super Bowl."

Great question. Followed by an equally great answer.

And not coincidentally, Ocho provided both.

For more of the madness of Media Day, please visit the PFW blog.

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