Super Bowl 2012: Will Chad Ochocinco have a chance to shine in the big game?

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By now you’ve heard all of the Super Bowl storylines.

You know the game features one of the best quarterbacks in history (Tom Brady) versus the best quarterback this season (Eli Manning). You’ve heard all about Rob Gronkowski’s foot, the New York Giants pass rush and whether the Patriots defense can stop the Giants explosive receivers.

The one story barely getting any publicity is whether Chad Ochocinco will finally play meaningful NFL minutes in the biggest game of the year. The former six-time Pro Bowler was brought in to be a difference maker. Instead, he’s been nonexistent for the Patriots this season. While we’ve praised the Patriots receiving playmakers — like Gronkowsi, Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez — Ochocinco has become the forgotten man of the Patriots offensive juggernaut.

Proving just how far he’s fallen, Ochocinco didn’t even play in the Patriots AFC Championship Game victory against the Baltimore Ravens. To put that into context, the Patriots played fifth round rookie receiver Matthew Slater against the Ravens…who had caught one pass in his NFL career.

Why Ochocinco hasn’t gelled with the Patriots has been speculated about all season. Some say he lost a step, and can’t get separation from defenses anymore. Others claim he’s never been able to grasp the Patriots complicated playbook.

Typically in the news for both his actions off the field as much as on, Ochocinco has been an afterthought all year. The only time he made headlines was when he was blasted by former Patriot Tedy Bruschi for a tweet. Known for giving teammates the breakaway speed and playmaking ability that makes everyone else’s job easier, this year his best gift to his teammates was Beats by Dre Headphones.

With Gronkowski hobbled, and coach Bill Belichick known for using every hidden wrinkle and advantage to beat an opponent, could the Super Bowl finally be the time we see Ochocinco unleashed?

Doubtful. Ochocinco doesn’t seem to care either way. During the Super Bowl media session yesterday, reporters asked Ochocinco if it would be difficult to watch the game from the sidelines. He told reporters:

“Why would it be hard? When you’re part of a team, I mean, there’s nothing hard about it at all.”

That’s a great answer from a PR standpoint, but it’s hard to believe Ochocinco really feels that way. His entire career he’s loved the limelight. His acrobatic touchdown catches were often trumped by over-the-top celebrations. His persona even led to a reality show, The Ultimate Catch.That persona may be all he has to fall back on. Due to how unproductive he was this year, Ochocinco’s football career may soon be over. Will he have the juice to still remain relevant when he’s not torching defensive backs anymore?

Terrell Owens was an even more talented receiver than Ochocinco, with a bombastic personality and who also had his own reality show. Unlike Ochocinco, he didn’t even play badly to cut his career short, but rather suffered an injury. Now, he’s considering playing for something called the Indoor Football League, and is apparently broke. Ochocinco may be in for a similar fate.

The Super Bowl is the last chance for Ochocinco to prove that he can still play. In a sport where just about every player is worn down and aching this late in the season, Ochocinco’s body is probably in great shape from the limited playing time he’s seen. He’s always been known for toughness and could relish competing on the biggest stage.

And at the very least, couldn’t the Patriots at least use him as a decoy? Even with his diminished skills, if the Giants saw Ochocinco line up at receiver, they’d have to at least account for him. You don’t need to know the playbook to run fly routes past the defense.

If Ochocinco sees the field during the Super Bowl (and that’s a big “if” at this point), he needs to take advantage. Even a couple of catches may make a GM next year take a long look at the former star and prolong his career.

If Ochocinco once again doesn’t play a snap, his career is likely over and he’ll have to try to be a star off the field. There have been many that have tried, and failed, at it before.

For someone so used to being in the spotlight, it’s strange to hardly hear a word about the disappearance of Ochocinco this week during the most covered and hyped week of the football season. We’ve read about him changing his name, laughed at his touchdown dances, and even watched his reality show. At this point, Ochocinco has been in the news for just about everything. The only way we’ll pay attention to him now is if he surprises us.

So surprise us Chad. Produce on Sunday.