NFL's 11 Dirtiest Players: Did Sporting News Poll Get It Right?

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVNovember 9, 2011

NFL's 11 Dirtiest Players: Did Sporting News Poll Get It Right?

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    As is their tradition, the Sporting News yet again released the answers they've compiled from this year's midseason NFL players poll, with 111 players from 31 teams weighing in on all manners of subjects affecting their sport.

    In one question, the magazine asked responders to name the dirtiest player in the league—and no, Todd Haley doesn't count, though he certainly looks dirty. Eleven players made the list, with the overall No. 1 choice winning in a landslide.

    Who are these men and why do their peers hate, and perhaps fear, them so? Let's take a look at the players' choices and see whether they are justified.

No. 8 (Tie): Casey Wiegmann, C, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Kansas City guard Casey Wiegmann's appearance on this list reeks of conspiracy—one likely engineered by a player curiously absent from this list despite a number of complaints against him from opposing offensive lines: Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork.

    In 2008, when Wiegmann was with the Denver Broncos, he spoke publicly about the cheap-shotting he believes Wilfork engages in.

    Surely Weigmann has been guilty of taking cheap shots of his own; it is part of the game, after all.

    But one thing is clear: Wilfork is truly a student of coach Bill Belichick and never forgot what Wiegmann said of him years ago.

    Now, Wilfork is finally exacting his revenge after a seasons-long smear campaign that finally paid off—the nose tackle clearly coerced two players to spread these vicious lies.

    VERDICT: Squeaky clean.

No. 8 (Tie): David Stewart, OT, Tennessee Titans

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    The one thing we are all learning here is that offensive linemen are by far the most dirtiest players in the NFL, with Tennessee Titans offensive tackle David Stewart part of a four-way tie for eighth dirtiest, garnering two votes.

    Stewart's name is on the list because he's prone to committing late hits. In fact, the majority of his fines and penalties have come from hitting after the whistle.

    While it may be a hearing issue or just a general inability to go from 60 to zero at the end of a play, it's enough for two players to claim he's the dirtiest in the league. I'm sure he's hit them.

    VERDICT: Dirty as Denzel in Training Day.

No. 8 (Tie): Mike McGlynn, G, Cincinnati Bengals

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    It wouldn't be a list of dirty players without a Bengals player being mentioned, and guard Mike McGlynn is the name of note this year.

    But considering McGlynn has spent the majority of his playing time (mainly spent with the Philadelphia Eagles before he joined the Bengals this year) injured, I wonder just what he's done to draw ire from two of his peers.

    The dirtiest thing I could find on McGlynn was the above clip of him getting a little peck on the mouth from his former quarterback, Michael Vick. And it's not even that racy, folks.

    I could come up with a number of lists to put McGlynn on, but for dirtiest player, I'm looking elsewhere.

    VERDICT: This is the best you could do, Sporting News? C'mon, man!

No. 8 (Tie): Harvey Dahl, G, St. Louis Rams

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    A quick Google search for St. Louis Rams guard Harvey Dahl says it all: mean, dirty and tough are all words that repeatedly describe the former San Francisco 49er and Atlanta Falcon.

    Big, bruising, nasty and staunchly old-school, Dahl himself has admitted he "pushes the whistle," attacking defensive linemen up to (and perhaps just a shade beyond) the end of plays.

    But with just two votes and in a four-way tie, it's clear that players view him as he truly is: an aggressive pass and run blocker with the necessary intensity to keep the game interesting and his opponents uncomfortable.

    He's probably got quite a mouth on him, too.

    VERDICT: Leaning toward dirty, but have to check if my address is published on the Internet first.

No. 7: Brandon Meriweather, S, Chicago Bears

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    Three votes went to Chicago Bears safety Brandon Meriweather, whose appearance is surprising on this list only because he's the sole safety to have garnered any votes.

    Considering how the safety position requires players to be mobile and hard-hitting, I would have thought more safeties would have earned a mention.

    Instead, the dubious distinction is Meriweather's alone, as a number of helmet-first launches have resulted in hefty fines and serious injuries.

    A few incidental helmet-to-helmet hits are going to happen over the course of a player's career, but for Meriweather, headhunting is his preferred style of play. It's scary and it's dangerous, and it's most certainly dirty.

    The votes were clearly justified; I'm just amazed he didn't garner more. Perhaps it's because he's currently riding the Chicago Bears' bench.

    VERDICT: Guilty, your honor.

No. 6: Richie Incognito, G, Miami Dolphins

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    Yes, Richie Incognito, we know it's you, whether you're wearing a Rams, Bills or a Dolphins uniform. So do the refs, who live for moments like the ones he's had in his professional career.

    Incognito likes penalties in bunches most of all—he drew at least two personal fouls in three games over four seasons as a Ram.

    In an October 2008 game against the Washington Redskins, Incognito had three major penalties, including a 15-yarder for "repeated verbal abuse of a game official," which is really code for him doing something that most players wish they could get away with.

    Of course, it points to a lack of self-control and discipline more than anything. After headbutting two Tennessee Titans players in 2009 (in two—two!—separate incidents), the Rams parted ways with their long-time guard.

    Though he's calmed down a bit since joining the Miami Dolphins, his bad reputation still swirls around him, unaffected by whatever disguise Incognito (if that's his real name) tries to cover it with.

    VERDICT: Absolutely dirty.

No. 5: Hines Ward, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Behind his winning smile and adjacent to his Mirror Ball trophy is the heart of a bloodthirsty beast. That is, if you believe that Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is as brutal as his peers claim he is.

    A perennial name on the list of dirtiest players, Ward received just six votes after coming in first place in this category a number of times.

    The truth is, he's consistently been one of the best blocking wide receivers in the game, and the brutality in which he completes his blocks leaves a bad taste (or, sometimes, no taste for six weeks) in the mouths of the defenders he defeats.

    No defensive back, safety or linebacker wants to be crushed by a mere wide receiver. The one thing that Ward's style of play has injured most clearly is his opponents' pride.

    VERDICT: If by dirty, you mean blocking wide receiver.

No. 4: Tyson Clabo, OT, Atlanta Falcons

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    It's hard to find video of Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Tyson Clabo exhibiting dirty play, but that's because of his position—not because the seven players who voted for him made mistakes.

    On the offensive line, dirty play takes a far subtler form than it does when a linebacker like James Harrison bodyslams a running back.

    Dirty offensive line play means tripping defensive linemen, it means blocking low, it means breaking people's fingers in the pile and it probably means more than a little trash-talking.

    The fact that Clabo picked up any votes in this poll means that there are some players out there whom Clabo has hurt—badly. That's a prototypical offensive tackle, right there: big and brutal, like a brick wall that's also capable of extreme violence.

    However, Clabo's style of play isn't anything aytpical—or at least, it shouldn't be. You could interchange him with practically any offensive lineman for the kinds of so-called "dirty" tactics he employs.

    VERDICT: Not dirty. Let the man do his job!

No. 3: Cortland Finnegan, CB, Tennessee Titans

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    It's clear that Tennessee Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan plays his position well because he hates wide receivers.

    Like the saying (that I just thought up) goes: Contempt is a spicy sauce that covers a receiver best—and is also delicious.

    Finnegan's contempt means he knows how to get under a receiver's skin and distract him. Most importantly, it helps him play serious man coverage more brutally than most other corners in the NFL.

    Finnegan said last year that he aspires to be named the league's dirtiest player, and while his wish didn't come true this year, he did jump three spots. The above fight with the Houston Texans' Andre Johnson probably helped that effort.

    Unfortunately, Finnegan was on the receiving end of the beatdown, rather than dishing out the most punishment. That's dirty, to be sure, just not dirty enough.

    VERDICT: Probably dirty, but at least in the ballpark

No. 2: James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Apparently, perfectly-executed belly-to-back suplexes aren't rewarded in the NFL like they are in the wrestling ring, as evidenced by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison coming in No. 2 in the players' poll of dirtiest in the league, with nine votes.

    Unlike Ndamukong Suh, Harrison actually seems mean and scary when he's off the field, where skills as a linebacker aren't terribly practical. But on the field, he plays the game the way it's meant to be played: physically, aggressively and without much concern about the health and welfare of the offensive players he's smashing into.

    With just nine votes from over 100 fellow players, perhaps Harrison is mellowing with age. Just don't send him to my door to prove that he hasn't.

    VERDICT: Totally off-base. Again.

No. 1: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions

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    With a whopping 36 total votes, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was named the dirtiest player in the NFL for hits like the one above, for allegedly taunting an injured Matt Ryan and for claiming that "evil prevailed" after his team's drubbing of the Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos.

    More than likely, the 36 players who claimed Suh to be the league's dirtiest player were among the many flattened by the NFL's best defensive tackle. Those players wouldn't mind if Suh was on their own team, of course, because a player with his playing style is an asset.

    There's no coach in the league who would dare request Suh to tone down his hard-hitting ways because what Suh does isn't dirty. It's just that bruising defense has fallen out of favor with commissioner Roger Goodell and his minions.

    Now, a player like Suh, who would have once been celebrated for his brutal, knock-your-teeth-out-and-insult-your-sister style, is labeled dirty simply because he's so fearsome.

    VERDICT: Totally off-base.