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  • Richie Incognito

I didn’t know Richie Incognito was still playing football. Which is to say, I’d forgotten about him. But he popped back into the headlines the other day thanks to his love-hate relationship with his younger Miami Dolphins teammate Jonathan Martin. Damned if I know if love-hate actually describes it—I’m just taking a stab at the complicated emotional lives of NFL players. Here’s a bowdlerized transcript of a voice message Incognito reportedly left Martin last April:

“Hey, wassup, you half n——- piece of s—-. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s—- in your f—-ing mouth. [I’m going to] slap your f—-ing mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F—- you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”

This wasn’t the only time Incognito gave Martino what I suppose Incognito considered a ribbing. Martin left the team; Incognito has now been suspended from it. Teammates have generally taken Incognito’s side. According to this ESPN report, “veteran offensive tackle Tyson Clabo says Incognito is being unfairly depicted as a psychopathic, racist maniac. He says Incognito treated Martin like a little brother, and Clabo blasted Martin for abandoning his team.”

I lost track of Incognito when the Rams dropped him in 2009. I’m from Saint Louis so I followed the Rams. Earlier he’d played for Nebraska, and my wife went there so I followed the Huskers too. Incognito signed with Nebraska in 2001 out of Glendale, Arizona, because, he said, “Nebraska is the best lineman school in the country,” and it looked for a while that he’d be the latest in a long line of Husker All-Americas in the trenches. He was so good he started as a red-shirt freshman. But he was also a load. In the end, Nebraska decided Incognito wasn’t worth putting up with, the first but not the last team to come to that conclusion.

I’ve gone back over a few of the many news stories that tell the story of Incognito’s career.

Lincoln Journal-Star, May 3, 2004:

A Lancaster County judge found Nebraska standout offensive lineman Richie Incognito guilty of misdemeanor assault at the conclusion of a trial Tuesday. . . . Police ticketed Incognito in February following an incident at a Lincoln party in which three men claimed they were assaulted by the 6-foot-3, 290-pound player.

One of the men said Incognito pushed him down and slammed his face into a wall, while another man said he was knocked unconscious by Incognito.

The third man said Incognito struck him in the face and took his cell phone . . .

Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan said in a prepared statement that Incognito will face discipline within the program. Callahan didn’t specify the nature of Incognito’s punishment.

Journal-Star, September 1, 2004:

Nebraska coaches became angry with Incognito last month when he scuffled with defensive end Adam Carriker during a goal-line scrimmage. At the time, Incognito acknowledged such outbursts were wrong.

Incognito also has struggled to control his anger in games, drawing a spate of personal-foul penalties during the last two seasons. He was involved in a scuffle during last year’s Alamo Bowl against Michigan State. And in a 2002 loss at Penn State, he was ejected for fighting and suspended for the first half of the following week’s loss at Iowa State.

“It’s been like that since Day One with Richie,” said Dan Vili Waldrop, who completed his eligibility at Nebraska last season after three seasons as starting right tackle.

Waldrop said former Nebraska offensive line coach Milt Tenopir “always liked Richie’s fire.” However, Waldrop said, things changed when Tenopir retired following the 2002 season and Barney Cotton took over as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

Cotton, in fact, tried to kick Incognito off the team last season, apparently because of Incognito’s poor overall attitude, Waldrop said. . . .

Richard Incognito on Wednesday described his son as being “old- school” in the way he approaches the game.

“Nebraska was old-school for a short time, then it changed,” Incognito said. “He’s my son, and he is what he is. He just wants to kick people’s butt. . . .

“Richie won’t take crap from anyone,” Richard Incognito said. “He’s a hard-nosed kid, and Nebraska doesn’t want hard-nosed kids anymore.”

Journal-Star, September 14, 2004:

Standout offensive lineman Richie Incognito withdrew from classes at Nebraska on Tuesday and appears set to transfer to Oregon.

The news provided a sense of closure to a situation that hung over the Nebraska program since Aug. 31, when Husker head coach Bill Callahan suspended Incognito indefinitely for repeated violations of team rules. . . .

On Friday morning, Incognito and his father met with Callahan for about 30 minutes at South Stadium. Upon leaving the stadium, the Incognitos brushed past a reporter without comment. . . .

A 6-foot-3, 300-pound native of Glendale, Ariz., Incognito has struggled to control his temper both on and off the field since arriving at Nebraska in 2001. After sitting out his first season as a redshirt, Incognito immediately flourished into the team’s top offensive lineman despite numerous personal fouls. . . .

Tim Green, a Nebraska offensive lineman from 1999-2003, spoke with Incognito on Saturday night at a downtown Lincoln tavern.

“Richie said he was disappointed with what happened,” Green said Tuesday. “He said he was fed up with the program and felt he was being treated unfairly. He said the whole thing’s been a big hassle, a big pain in the neck.

“I have respect for Richie. I think he wishes he didn’t do some of the stuff he did. But Richie won’t leave Nebraska with his head hanging low. He’ll give it 100 percent, whatever he does next.”

Eugene, Oregon, Register-Guard, October 5, 2004:

Troubled transfer Richie Incognito, who landed at Oregon after being suspended at Nebraska, is apparently headed elsewhere before he ever even practiced with the Ducks.

“Richie failed to meet some of the conditions I set forth for admittance to the team and so he’s not a member of the team and never actually has been,” UO coach Mike Bellotti said Monday in announcing the latest development in the Incognito saga.

When he informed the media that Incognito was enrolled at Oregon last Monday, the first day of classes for the fall term, Bellotti said he had set down what he described as ‘a very strict code of conduct’ for the former all-league offensive lineman with the Cornhuskers to be allowed to play for the Ducks in the 2005 season. Not all of those terms in the agreement allowing him to join the Ducks were made public, and a week later, Bellotti wouldn’t reveal what condition Incognito had failed to meet. . . .

Incognito came to Oregon with a history of aggressive behavior, leading to his suspension at Nebraska, which then prompted his withdrawal from classes at the Big 12 school last month. His most recent transgressions were a conviction for a misdemeanor assault last winter, which led to a $500 fine, and an August altercation with a teammate in the dressing room.

Incognito had also been ejected from a game while at Nebraska for a fight with an opponent, and other teams had accused him of spitting at defensive players. Incognito had attended an anger management class while at Nebraska, at the insistence of the school, and one of his acknowledged conditions for joining the Ducks was to participate in a similar program on behavior control.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 24, 2005:

It just wouldn’t seem like a Rams draft without some sort of controversial pick. On Saturday, that pick came in the third round- No. 81 overall—in former Nebraska offensive lineman Richie Incognito.

There’s no doubt he has first-round talent. But he has issues—on and off the field relating to fights—and needs knee surgery.

“I’m very excited about him,” coach Mike Martz said Saturday night. “The athleticism and the physical mentality, and the toughness that he brings to the offensive line.”

Some would say too much toughness. At Nebraska, Incognito was an all-Big 12 first-team selection at left tackle in 2003. But as a freshman in 2002, he was ejected from the Penn State game for fighting.

He was suspended by then-Nebraska coach Frank Solich in the spring of 2003 for a variety of indiscretions. In February of 2004 he was charged with assault stemming from a fight at a party, and was eventually found guilty of misdemeanor assault.

Next, he was suspended indefinitely before the 2004 season by new Nebraska coach Bill Callahan, left school, and tried to enroll at Oregon. But he left school there, too, after failing to meet requirements set down by Ducks coach Mike Bellotti. So Incognito sat out the 2004 campaign, and then turned pro after what would have been his junior season.

“We brought him in (for a visit) and spent a great deal of time with him,” Martz said. “If there were concerns, we’ve been able to work through those things.”

In a conference call with St. Louis reporters, Incognito said, “I’m not a bad kid. I’m a good kid at heart. And I’ve just got to go there and show it to them.”

Incognito added: “It’s not a real anger thing. It’s a passion thing. I care a lot about the game. I play with passion. I play with fire. And I play to win. Sometimes in my younger days, when I was a little immature, it kind of got carried away. But as I’ve gotten older it’s been less and less of a problem.”

Post-Dispatch, October 18, 2008:

Richie Incognito’s temper tantrum proved very costly Sunday in Washington. The NFL has fined the offensive guard $25,000 for what it termed repeated verbal abuse of a game official in the closing seconds of the Rams’ 19-17 victory over the Redskins.

Incognito drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty for the outburst, which meant Josh Brown’s game-winning field goal as time expired came from 49 yards instead of 34.

Incognito also was fined $5,000 for a major facemask penalty and an additional $5,000 for an illegal chop block. So his total fines for the day amounted to $35,000. That’s more than a game check ($27,000) for Incognito, whose base salary is $460,000 this season.

Post-Dispatch, November 2, 2008:

These two world-class hotheads go head-to-head Sunday, with Darnell Dockett usually lining up over Richie Incognito. The last time Incognito played Arizona, his hometown team, he was so worked up he was flagged four times for 50 yards. Following that Oct. 8, 2007 matchup, Dockett accused Incognito of dirty play.

“In my eyes, that’s low-class,” Dockett said. “That one individual that everybody knows, he’s been able to play that way since college. The league is going to have to do something.”

Letter to the Post-Dispatch, November 25, 2008:

As a charter season ticket holder, I have been through the highs of a Super Bowl season as well as the lows of this season. Sunday was a conscience-altering day for me and my relationship with the St. Louis Rams. I have never booed my own team, but when Richie Incognito insulted me with his childish gestures, I’d had enough. It’s one thing to play poorly, commit simple errors that lead to inexcusable penalties and play with a general lack of enthusiasm.

As a life-long St. Louis football fan, I have seen some bad football . . . but, please, don’t rub my nose in it again. The the Rams management: Either Richie goes or I, and I assume many other fans, will go.

Post-Dispatch, November 27, 2008:

After receiving a loud-and-clear message Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, Rams guard Richie Incognito is seeking to make peace with the hometown fans.

“I really didn’t mean to offend anyone by the words I said. Judging by the feeling at the Dome, a lot of people were offended,” Incognito said Wednesday at Rams Park. “I just want to apologize to the frustrated fans out there. We’re not giving them much to cheer about.”

Last week, Incognito ignited their ire by asserting they don’t know “how to cheer” or “when to cheer.” He also welcomed the legions of Chicago Bears supporters in town for Sunday’s game. “At least they cheer,” he cracked.

Incognito was the target of lusty boos and catcalls during the 27-3 loss Sunday. Afterward, he fueled their displeasure by stopping before heading into the tunnel to the locker room and cupping his ears, encouraging the hecklers to step up their abuse.

“It was wrong,” Incognito said. “I really want to put this behind me. We can’t have any more distractions. We’re trying to win some ballgames to keep (coach Jim) Haslett, and I think that’s where our focus needs to be.”

Haslett, who essentially is auditioning for the 2009 head-coaching position, said Incognito has “been our best offensive lineman all year, no question about it.” But Haslett also welcomed Incognito’s apology.

“Obviously, he has to control his emotions,” Haslett said. “Hopefully, as he goes on in his career he’ll keep maturing and he’ll understand that part of it.”

A fiery competitor, Incognito agreed that he went too far with his words and actions. “It’s me just being frustrated, mostly. But really, it’s uncalled for,” he said. “I love what I do and I’m passionate about what I do. … I really appreciate our fans’ support. I talked a little too much.”

Post-Dispatch, December 16, 2009:

After nearly five often-turbulent seasons in St. Louis, the Rams have cut ties with right guard Richie Incognito.

Incognito was released Tuesday and told the Post-Dispatch he had no problems with the decision.

“At the end of the day, it’s the best decision for both sides,” Incognito said. “Spags comes out looking like a hero. He got Incognito. He ran Incognito out of town. Perception’s everything. So that’s what it’s going to be perceived as.”

But Incognito’s remarks shouldn’t be perceived as a shot at Steve Spagnuolo. In fact, on his last day as a Ram, Incognito had nothing but good things to say about the Rams’ rookie head coach.

“He’s doing a hell of a job, and you’ve got to feel for the guy,” Incognito said. . . .

At his best, the so-called “Good Richie” was a physical blocker who played with intensity and helped clear holes for Steven Jackson and the running game.

But the “Bad Richie” ultimately got the best of him. Voted the NFL’s dirtiest player in a player poll conducted by The Sporting News earlier this season, Incognito was flagged for a pair of drive-killing personal foul penalties in the first half of Sunday’s 47-7 loss to Tennessee. He was benched after the second infraction for the rest of the day. . . .

Last season, Incognito created a firestorm by criticizing Rams fans. But he fired no parting shots at them Tuesday.

“I met a lot of great people in St. Louis,” he said. “It’s a great city. A lot of great places to eat. I’m going to miss that the most. Because me and my girlfriend, we got out, we got to really experience St. Louis. I’m just so thankful for my girlfriend, and my family, and my mother and father for sticking behind me.”

Florida Sun-Sentinel, March 15, 2010:

Richie Incognito, voted by his peers as the NFL’s dirtiest player last season, will make a free agent visit to the Miami Dolphins on Monday, a league source said. . . .

Fined nearly six figures for various on-field incidents so far in his brief NFL career, Incognito is a former third-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams. He has made 47 career NFL starts, including three to close out last season in Buffalo, but the Rams dismissed him after he had a run-in with coach Steve Spagnuolo during a Dec. 13 game against the Titans.

Incognito received a pair of personal foul penalties in that game, both for head-butting an opponent. He was fined $50,000 by the league and threatened with a possible suspension. . . .

A native of New Jersey who grew up in the Phoenix area, Incognito withdrew from Nebraska in 2004 after being suspended for a variety of misdeeds, including a misdemeanor assault charge. He also briefly enrolled at Oregon, where he was dismissed for failing to meet certain team conditions.

Upon his arrival in the pros, it didn’t take Incognito long to earn a reputation for nastiness. Last season he was voted the NFL’s dirtiest player in a Sporting News poll of 99 players; a similar poll in Sports Illustrated named him the seventh-dirtiest player in the league.

“You can call me what you want,” Incognito told the Buffalo News in December. “I’m a hard-nosed football player. I bring my ‘A’ game every Sunday.”

Now Miami’s cut him loose. There are plenty of NFL players you can’t imagine doing anything else. But even though there’s always another team willing to try to make it happen, some square pegs don’t even fit into square holes.

UPDATE: As Bill says below, I got a little ahead of myself. As of this writing, Incognito had been suspended by the Dolphins, and the Miami Herald reports that it hears he’s history. But that remains to be seen.