07:16 AM PST on Friday, December 12, 2008
RENTON, Wash. - There may be no more ironically named player in the NFL than Richie Incognito. At least to the Seahawks.
A Seattle defense that has been stone cold during most of this season turned fiery this week. All it took was the mere mention of the St. Louis Rams offensive lineman.
The Seahawks (2-11) say Incognito jumps late onto piles. He twists ankles. He scratches necks.
That's why he is the man they target for payback perhaps more than any other opponent in the league.
"You know, like the FBI's 20 Most Wanted? Yeah, he'd be on that list," Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson said with an evil chuckle while preparing for the next encounter with Incognito -- Sunday in St. Louis.
Incognito should be anonymous. He's a fourth-year guard on another 2-11 team who spent two of his first three seasons on injured reserve.
Yet how many guards rack up fines of $25,000 for repeated verbal abuse of a game official, $5,000 for a major facemask and $5,000 for a chop block -- all in the same game? Or make an obscene gesture to a TV cameraman -- at practice? How about stopping his jog off the field after another bad game of his team's horrid season, dropping his helmet and cupping his hands to his ears to mock the home fans for not booing loudly enough.
Incognito has done all that this season.
Peterson, a four-time Pro Bowl player, got so irate at Incognito in the season's first meeting between the Seahawks and Rams he threw two punches at the rowdy Ram after a play.
Peterson said he was incensed after Incognito wandered into a pile at the end of a tackle, grabbed the foot and ankle of Seattle's Leroy Hill and started twisting.
"In that last game we played him, I felt like he did a lot of dirty stuff," said Peterson, who was fined for a hard hit on Rams quarterback Marc Bulger in that game.
Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard will line up across from Incognito. When asked his opinion, Bernard chuckled, shook his head and said, "I've got to choose my words carefully here."
"You just have to be smart when you play a guy like that," he said. "You don't want to hurt your team with stupid penalties because there's a lot of cheap shots out there."
So has he retaliated with cheap shots of his own against Incognito?
"I have done that before," Bernard said, laughing and shaking his head again.
Some Seahawks said Incognito grabbed and clawed at the neck of Seattle defensive tackle Craig Terrill in their 37-13 home win over the Rams in September, causing Terrill to bleed.
But when asked about Incognito, Terrill took the high road.
"I just don't worry about that stuff too much," Terrill said, failing to keep a straight face. "It's a physical game."
Even Incognito's teammates realize he has the potential to cross the line between aggression and dirty play.
"Richie is doing everything he has to do to try to help us win ball games on Sunday. Does he go outside the box sometimes? Sure, who doesn't?" veteran Rams wide receiver Torry Holt said. "As a puny receiver and as sportswriters, you don't know what's going on inside those trenches. We try to do the best job we can to calm him and keep everything in between the whistle.
"We love him as a teammate. He is definitely one of our toughest offensive linemen on our squad and in the NFL."
Through a team spokesman, Incognito declined comment Thursday on the Seahawks' grievances.
When asked if he had heard that Seattle accused Incognito of dirty play in the teams' previous meeting, Rams coach Jim Haslett said Thursday: "That could be any team in the league."
None more so than a division rival that gets to absorb and avenge Incognito's antics twice each season.
"There are just a few in the league who take cheap shots, go low at you when they're not supposed to go low, like when you're not looking," Hill said. "We know who they are.
"Yes, he's one of them to us, because of all the things he's done and because we play them all the time."