He leaned against a makeshift bar in the ESPN green room before yet another in a seemingly endless string of TV appearances leading up to Super Bowl XLII in Arizona last February, and in an instant, Chad Johnson went from cordial to downright crotchety.

A reporter called Johnson's cell phone to ask about Johnson's repeated demands that the Cincinnati Bengals trade him. Although he had spent the week telling anybody and everybody that he wanted out of Cincinnati, Johnson unleashed a string of obscenities on the reporter, hung up, murmured a few more curse words, and walked out onto the ESPN set, where he again talked about his unhappiness.

You think Lito Sheppard was upset in the off-season after the Eagles signed Asante Samuel to a monster contract? Sheppard had nothing on Ocho Cinco.

As it turns out, Donovan McNabb, that great communicator with wide receivers, helped Johnson adjust his attitude and make peace with the Bengals. Funny how things work sometimes. Johnson said yesterday that it was McNabb who convinced him to at least attempt to be a team-first player, shelve his personal disappointments, and act in the best interest of his teammates and organization.

It was McNabb, whom Johnson called a close friend, who told the volatile and outspoken Johnson to cool it, to rejoin his team, and to play out this season, because, as McNabb apparently told Johnson, millions of people would like to be in Johnson's shoes. A richly gifted athlete playing a kid's sport for big sums of cash? McNabb told Johnson: It can't be that bad, right?

"I blew his phone up," Johnson said yesterday as his 1-8 Bengals prepared to host the 5-4 Eagles on Sunday. "Donovan was a big influence. [He] really is one of the reasons why I really turned myself around and looked at my situation as more of a positive outlook and just thinking about all the people that would love to play this game, you know?

"He took me in that direction, instead of thinking about, 'Oh, I'm tired of losing and I don't want to be here anymore,' but just thinking about, 'Man, a lot of people wish they were in your shoes just to have the ability to play in the NFL.' That kind of turned me around, and that's why I've been as positive as I have been this year, and even though we're losing, man, I've just been plugging away."

Look at what we've learned about the Eagles' veteran quarterback in just the last two weeks. First, McNabb revealed last week that he had never voted, and had never even been registered to vote, before pushing the button for Barack Obama last Tuesday. From an educated, well-read man in his 30s, it was a fascinating revelation. Certainly, some people choose to voice their displeasure with the political system by refusing to vote, and apparently, that was McNabb's choice. At least until Obama.

And now, according to Johnson, McNabb acted as a sounding board and sage to one of the most outspoken, volatile and self-centered wide receivers in the NFL. Johnson isn't exactly humble. He changed his last name, or at least said he did, to Ocho Cinco to reflect his jersey number. (The NFL doesn't recognize the change, although the Bengals do.)

But there was McNabb, who has a bit of a history in dealing with a wide receiver who was trying to blow up a team, trying to calm down Johnson and get him to see the broader picture. McNabb, in a way, kept Johnson from imploding the Bengals.

Yes, Cincinnati is 1-8, but its problems aren't all Johnson's fault. He didn't cause Carson Palmer to have chronic elbow problems that will keep him out against the Eagles and could cause him to miss the balance of the season. Johnson isn't solely responsible for the Bengals' inability to put points on the board, or rush the ball, or gain yards.

Johnson isn't exactly lighting it up this season - only 37 catches for 349 yards and 4 touchdowns - but neither is anybody else.

"It's very frustrating," Johnson said. "I can only speak for myself. I've been very positive and working hard just doing the things that I can to help my offense. . . . I don't have a choice but to stay positive. You know, I was very negative during the off-season, I would say somewhat of a distraction at that point, even though football wasn't going on. So for me, coming back, I think it was in my best interest for myself, for my team, this organization, to be as positive as possible."

Which, apparently, Johnson has done.

McNabb was excused from the Eagles' practice yesterday for personal reasons, so he wasn't available to comment on Johnson. But you can't put it past McNabb, or for that matter Johnson, for trying to lay some groundwork for 2009. Johnson is under contract with the Bengals through 2011, and while they weren't willing to trade Johnson this past off-season, one never knows what will happen after this season.

"I've always been a fan of [McNabb], and especially Philly," Johnson said. "The fans in Philly are the real deal, and that would be a real joy to give them a treat."

So are you back to saying you want to get traded, Chad?

"Oh, yeah. OK. Next question," Johnson said.