In 2003, I was a rookie for the Oakland Raiders and played with the greatest wide receiver of all time, Jerry Rice. He was still productive at 41 years old, but watching him in practices and on game days, I realized that not even the great ones can stay young forever. I wondered how he was able to keep playing. So, being the bright-eyed rookie that I was, I asked him.
His response changed how I would prepare for the rest of my pro career.
"As your physical skills decline, your football intelligence has to incline," Rice said.
It's a very simple notion, easily overlooked by skill players who rely on physical talent to cover up a lack of football knowledge.
Last season, Chad Johnson (then Ochocinco) was exposed for a lack of F.B.I. -- that is to say, football intelligence. He caught just 15 passes for 276 yards and one touchdown -- the worst output of his 11-year career.
Johnson couldn't crack the culture or the playbook of the New England Patriots, highlighting his inability to comprehend the complexity of the sport. After flaming out with the Miami Dolphins, Johnson theoretically is looking for work. But training camps are already well underway, and most teams will have concerns about adding an aging receiver who lacks F.B.I.
If Johnson wants to be picked up by another team, he'll have to show more than a decent time in the 40-yard dash. He'll have to articulate his knowledge of the X's and O's.
His problems in New England stemmed from more than just issues with the playbook. The Patriots' offense is about understanding defensive schemes and making slight adjustments to the offensive game plan. That's the kind of stuff that requires F.B.I. When NFL teams look for veteran leaders, they want player-coaches who can produce on the field while mentoring younger teammates.
Chad Johnson's career has seemed like a never-ending publicity campaign. If he ever wants to play another snap in the NFL, Johnson must shape up -- and work on his F.B.I.