You don't often hear a player condense four seasons to, "I was an idiot," in an interview. But then few players are like Richie Incognito. The toughest player on the Miami Dolphins is the toughest to explain as well.
Let's start here: Incognito anoints teammates with nicknames, like Jonathan "Big Weirdo" Martin and Jeff "Dilbert" Adams. He led the "theft" of Josh Samuda's car, then tweeted for everyone to help police, "be on the lookout for a ratchet white Impala on some weak 24" rims."
Once, back in St. Louis, he dropped five gallons of cold water on a teammate sitting in the toilet stall just before practice. So he's the prankster, the class clown, the guy who keeps things light, right?
"Well, yeah, but …," center Mike Pouncey says.
Incognito hasn't missed a practice in his four Dolphins years.
"He's dedicated,'' Joe Philbin said.
And he was a Pro Bowl player in 2012.
"Finally,'' he says.
So let's see. Funny. Dedicated. Talented. Just what you want, right? But for years the label on Incognito was a label. "The Dirtiest Player In The League," he was voted by his peers.
When you're a guard, when you have no statistic or highlight reel to change opinions – and when it's completely true – that label follows you for years like a tin can tied to a car.
"I'll admit, I was an idiot when I was in St. Louis,'' Incognito says. "You can chalk it up to being immature. But it got to the point the immaturity was just an excuse. I was doing stupid stuff."
Late hits. Personal fouls. Staying out late and, "burning the candle at both ends,'' he said. Things that hurt his team and his reputation. The Rams were awful, too, and so his dirty play became such a symbol that they cut him after nine games in 2009. Buffalo signed him.
He played three games with the Bills. They let him go at season's end. Suddenly, he had no job and no prospects.
"I had to look at myself,'' Incognito said. "I just left two programs where they can't find enough good ballplayers and they're passing on me. I had to take it on my shoulders."
"I approached it like it was my last opportunity to play in this league,'' Incognito said. "I knew I could play. But I had to get a lot of things in balance in football, in my personal life, emotionally, being a pro."
The old-school, muscle-friendly ball of Sparano was better in many ways than the newer-school, agility-demanding system that Philbin brought. But Incognito adapted. He lost some weight, worked on some quickness, brought the same brand of tenacity.
The old label didn't go away. It didn't matter he doesn't have a personal foul as a Dolphin. Last year, Houston defensive end Antonio Smith ripped Incognito for dirty play.
Incognito sat at his locker with his ipad cued to the video of the play Smith discussed to show reporters.
He wasn't the dirty one. The league agreed, fining Smith $21,000 and Incognito zilch. A landmark was passed. At season's end, another one was as well when Incognito went to the Pro Bowl.
He picked Peyton Manning's mind over some beers on blitz pick-ups. He talked with coaches about line work. He heard opponents tell him, "It's about time," he got that reward.
"Now that I've been to one, I'm hungry for another one,'' he said. "I'd like to string a couple Pro Bowl years along. First and foremost is helping this team win. But I'd like to go back to Hawaii."
When Incognito arrived with the Dolphins, he initially was viewed because of his dirtiest-player label like an animal at the zoo. Would he bite? Did you feed him?
Incognito admits there's some football value in that label, especially for an offensive lineman. But you can play hard on the field without crossing a line and enjoy your time off it without going over the line.
That's what his four years with the Dolphins show. That, and maybe it's time to change some labels.