At some of his lowest points in the offseason _ many of them self-inflicted _ Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ocho Cinco would get a call from his father figure in Baltimore, ready to suggest a Bible verse and some advice.
Linebacker Ray Lewis told the self-promoting receiver that he needed to change. Instead of being unhappy with his team, Lewis told him that he needed to be grateful to be in the NFL.
Stop complaining. Start appreciating. Get back to playing.
"That was the same message I relayed to him and a couple of other guys around the league that were going through the same thing," Lewis said Wednesday, in a conference call. "I was like: Keep your peace. Let the business side of the business take care of itself, but keep your peace and always stay who Chad is, and that's just loving the game of football."
The Pro Bowl receiver has changed, though not in all the ways his coach had hoped.
He has stopped grousing over the Bengals' refusal to trade him. He's been more upbeat around his teammates. He's worked through an ankle operation that slowed him at the start of training camp and an injury to his left shoulder in the second preseason game.
In that regard, he listened to the advice.
"He's my spiritual father when I'm having problems," the receiver told sports writers in Baltimore on Wednesday. "Ray has been there for me through everything. Ray is really the only reason I've somewhat shut up and calmed down and came back and refocused my energy on helping my team get to the playoffs and all my energy being positive.
"So, Ray is really the reason I'm back here happy, smiling and ready to go again."
He hasn't shed the self-absorption, though.
Last week, he legally changed his last name from Johnson to Ocho Cinco. He told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he wants to be called by his new name, but declined to talk about it any further.
It's unclear whether he'll have his new name or the old one on his uniform Sunday for the season opener in Baltimore. Coach Marvin Lewis _ who hates the receiver's self-promoting stunts _ said it's up to the NFL to decide what name goes on his uniform.
"It's not a stunt," Lewis said. "He changed his name. It's a legal document. He's been wanting to do this since March. It's kind of water under the bridge at this point for us."
Spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail to the AP that the league hasn't addressed the question yet.
Asked if the new name is one of the changes that resulted from Ocho Cinco's talks with Ray Lewis, the Bengals coach laughed loudly.
"That's a very good question," he said. "We're going to figure Chad out now?"
Ray Lewis, who at age 33 is three years older than the receiver, has noticed a change in attitude when he talks to him on the phone.
"These are the things that he has grabbed onto, to say that life is life, life is good," the linebacker said. "You can be a true role model to some people and show people what life is about when you really challenge yourself to be great every day."
Asked about the name change, Ray Lewis chuckled.
"It's whatever it is," he said. "If that's the way he feels he wants to be called, then let him go by that."
AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.