DAVIE, Fla. -- Living nearly 20 miles south of here, more than two decades before the name change or the Twitter followers or the marketing wizardry, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Chad Ochocinco always had a childhood team he favored above the rest.
He admired those "Marks Brothers" (Mark Duper and Mark Clayton), loved watching Dan Marino hit each of them in stride during the days that now feel deep in the rearview of Dolphins lore. These were his colors, aqua and orange. And this was the place where his roots remained planted deep beneath the Liberty City soil.
It's always nice to come home, isn't it? Always symbolic and sentimental. But for Ochocinco -- no, for Chad Johnson -- his return to these parts couldn't be more appropriately timed.
"For me, it's about getting back to the basics, back to the roots, how it all started," he said. "Not as far as coming back to Miami -- but as far as getting my game going, getting back to what we're all used to seeing.
"It's about the basic fundamentals of how I became what I am. I feel like I lost that -- and I'm looking to go back to Chad Johnson. Making it live again."
Before long, Ochocinco could make that happen literally by walking into Broward County's courthouse, just as he and his attorney originally did Aug. 8, 2008, to change his name back to Johnson after four years under his now-famous pseudonym. It shouldn't surprise anyone if he does exactly that.
But that, again, would also be nothing more than symbolism, another step toward channeling his deepest internal fundamentals. And while it all makes for good fodder, while it will surely make for good television leading into HBO's "Hard Knocks" series, we all know there's more to this.
Ochocinco didn't just become a talented receiver through the charisma that was lost on him during his brief stay in New England. His natural talent -- which can be lost with inevitable aging -- earned him six Pro Bowl selections during an excellent era in Cincinnati. So the better question is, does he still have it?
Let's not read too much into one practice on Tuesday, but a few diving catches, including one leaping grab over a defensive back on a pass from David Garrard, certainly didn't indicate a man ready for retirement.
"The way he's moving, running his routes, he's still very quick with his breaks," Garrard said. "That's usually the No. 1 thing that declines with older receivers, and I don't see that. And I definitely don't see (any decline) with the hands."
There are plenty of theories floating around to indicate why it didn't work with the Patriots. Maybe, as the most popular belief goes, the system was simply too complex for his simple but effective style of play. The Patriot Way isn't for everyone, and while we've been so conclusively led to believe otherwise, being on the other end of a Tom Brady pass doesn't guarantee success.
In Miami, wide receiver Roberto Wallace said Tuesday that he's been amazed how quickly the entire team has picked up offensive coordinator Mike Sherman's playbook; how after just a few months, everyone seems to be getting on the same page. It's worth wondering if that could benefit Ochocinco, who just arrived on the scene.
That's not to say this is definitely going to work. Nobody within the Dolphins organization is guaranteeing anything (money included). Instead, they say they'll keep a close eye on the situation -- meaning we're currently in an experimental zone with this newest addition.
Ochocinco will need to fight for this job. He'll need to claw up the depth chart, proving his talent at age 34 will make it worth the team's sacrifice of dismissing a younger player who could eventually flourish with enough time and development.
Then again, when we talk about roots, when we talk about fundamentals, isn't that the most basic element of football? If you want to dig beneath the surface of this story, below the symbolism that exists everywhere, that's it. Ochocinco will need to win this job, albeit in a competition that should make it very possible.
In a scenario that will surely provide some intrigue, this will undoubtedly be fun to follow.
On Aug. 8, 2008, the very day Ochocinco changed his name, another Chad was signing his name to a two-year contract at the Dolphins' training facility only a few miles away. That's the day Chad Pennington left one AFC East team for another, carrying a massive chip on his shoulder after being cast aside in New York.
Pennington, then 32, fell into the lap of a team in need of a quarterback like him, and although he only served as a short-term fix, he successfully helped lead the Dolphins to a playoff berth and an AFC East title.
Is Ochocinco capable of doing the same? Maybe not. But this scenario nonetheless seems plenty ideal for both sides, just as that one did. The Dolphins found a potential alpha receiver in an unexpected circumstance, while Ochocinco has been given a chance to help bring success back to his hometown.
Now, about that name change.