Chad Ochocinco Running Away With Title of Most Original Prankster Are we having fun yet?

Chad Ochocinco certainly is. The rest of the NFL — and professional sports in general — might want to follow his lead.

During the third quarter of the Bengals’ 17-7 win over the Ravens on Sunday, Ochocinco caught a debatable 15-yard pass from Carson Palmer. Baltimore challenged the ruling that the wide receiver had his feet in bounds. As the referee reviewed the tape on the sideline, Ochocinco got a dollar bill from an assistant coach and jokingly attempted to slip the money to another official to make sure the call went Cincinnati’s way.

The playful bribe didn’t work, the call was overturned, and the pass was ruled incomplete. But Ochocinco’s latest prank showed his comedic timing is almost as impeccable as his route-running ability.

That doesn’t mean everyone was amused by the stunt. Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to hand out a fine faster than Larry David cracks a joke, and plenty of talking heads and sports fans are throwing around words like "idiot," "moron," "clown" and "punk" to describe Ochocinco and his unconventional antics.

Negative responses miss the point. Ochocinco isn't disrespecting the game by having a good time on the field. His good-natured high jinks are precisely why he is respecting the game.

It’s called a game for a reason. Football is a kid’s game. So is baseball, basketball and pretty much any other sport you can name.

Some athletes forget this. They hold out for money. They don’t sign autographs for kids. They stonewall the media. They take themselves so seriously that they squeeze every ounce of fun from the game as if it was the last drop of toothpaste from an empty tube.

There was a time when I was opposed to all of Ochocinco’s shenanigans. I was in the same camp as those who thought he was a first-class jerk for wearing a pretend Hall of Fame jacket on the field or getting down on a knee to propose to a cheerleader or changing his name. All he wanted was attention — the epitome of the look-at-me cancer spreading throughout sports — I thought.

Now I view what he’s doing in an entirely different light.

Ochocinco is just using the Sunday stage to entertain. And if a guy performs on the field, why can’t he also celebrate on it?

Do we want to watch a field full of emotion-less robots who all look the same, run the same, catch the same, hit the same, talk the same, act the same and show the passion of uncooked spaghetti?

Back in the old days of sports, athletes with personality were considered colorful characters or free spirits. There was no penalty for cutting loose, and everyone who suited up felt blessed that they could get paid to run around and hit people or hit a ball or hit a shot.

Now, those kinds of characters are a dying breed. They’re made out to be pariahs before they’re trumpeted as heroes. They’re labeled troublemakers, headaches or selfish.

Sometimes, the shoe fits. But there is a difference between an egomaniac and a merry playmaker.

Ochocinco represents what’s right with the NFL, not what’s wrong. He’s helping turn the Bengals into playoff contenders and enjoying himself in the process.

That's the meaning of sports.

Everybody should take a page from the Ochocinco playbook and lighten up.