- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2006

John Jefferson started laughing even before the question about those who play a certain position, his position, was finished. He knew where it was going.

“You hate to say it’s what the public wants, but unfortunately it seems like the more distractions you create, the more positive it is,” said Jefferson, the Redskins’ director of player development and a wide receiver of some distinction with the San Diego Chargers and Green Bay Packers in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

This was a couple of weeks ago, a few days after Cincinnati’s Chad Johnson, who flashes gold teeth and has sported a golden mohawk, came out for warmups before a game against Baltimore wearing his self-dubbed nickname, “Ocho Cinco,” on his back (for which he got fined). Leading up to the game, Johnson said he would hit Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis in the mouth. After the Bengals lost, Johnson loudly complained about his lack of action. He likened himself to a “hood ornament.”

Also that week, the Giants’ Plaxico Burress publicly trashed the Chicago secondary before New York’s 38-20 loss to the Bears, and an ESPN commentator predicted Terrell Owens would cause Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells to quit by the end of the season. The next week, Randy Moss pouted about being “unhappy.”

Johnson, Burress and Owens and Moss are, of course, wide receivers being wide receivers. The position has assumed its own set of traits and specifications beyond hands, speed and agility. They stand apart with their incredible athleticism and ballet-like grace. And also with how they preen, provoke and display their petulance.

“You look at Marvin Harrison, guys like that, who they should be talking about, but they’re not talking about them,” Jefferson said. “You tend to focus on those who act crazy.”

Even Harrison, the Indianapolis Colts’ Hall of Fame-bound receiver known for his quiet modesty and discomfort with the limelight, had his moment of craziness a few weeks ago. He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after spiking the ball in the vicinity of a New England Patriots player after scoring a touchdown.

The display was stunning and out of character. Harrison eschews end zone celebrations and bulletin board quotes. Any complaints are taken to the coaches behind closed doors. He stands out because his decorum on and off the field does not.

“It’s clear that there are divas out there, and they tend to be receivers,” Jefferson said.

There it is, the D-word. The original definition of “diva” applies to certain female opera singers, but it has assumed a whole new meaning. One dictionary defines diva as “prima donna” (another opera term), which is subsequently defined as “a vain or undisciplined person who finds it difficult to work under direction or part of a team.”

Bingo. And no, Owens’ picture was not included.

Exhibit A used to be Moss, but he seems to have vanished. Actually, he’s in Oakland, but that’s pretty much the same thing. Moss briefly resurfaced last week at a dinner where a college award was named after him.

When asked about why he was dropping so many passes, he replied, “Maybe it’s because I’m unhappy, and I’m not too much excited about what’s going on, so my concentration and focus level tends to go down when I’m in a bad mood. So all I can say is if you put me in a good situation and make me happy, man, you get results.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

But Owens now is the reigning template for temperamental. He is supremely gifted. His words, actions and attitude also helped damage the internal organs of two franchises. Mark Schlereth ventured on ESPN that Owens’ would be Parcells’ undoing, but that was after the Cowboys lost to the Redskins. Since then, Dallas has won two straight, including a victory Sunday over previously unbeaten Indianapolis. So all appears well in Big D. But with Owens, you never know.

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