From my days in Mr. Wright's Latin classes, I know that "in" is translated as "not" and that "cognito" means "known." Ergo, "incognito" means "not known."
Richie Incognito, we know his kind. He's the fat little kid who never got over it. Instead, he got even.
He found a cover for his anger. Fat, little, angry kids play football so they can stomp on fat, little kids who aren't as angry. Some fat, little, angry kids get big enough, strong enough and smart enough to play in the NFL. They get to be 30 years old, 6-foot-3, 319 pounds -- and if they're really unlucky, they become Richie Incognito, offensive lineman and this week's NFL idiot.
Incognito was suspended (twice) at Nebraska, and you know it's not easy to get suspended at Nebraska, where character-building coach Tom Osborne let a cornerback play while awaiting trial for second-degree murder. Osborne also retained a defensive lineman who was arrested eight times, convicted four times, and left the heartland accused of multiple sexual assaults, before his induction into Nebraska's Hall of Fame in 2006. Not to mention Nebraska's current leader of young men, Bo Pelini, who is still apologizing for an epic carpet-bombing of F-words, an attempt to say exactly what he thought of Nebraska's fans.
Finally cut loose at Nebraska, Incognito lasted one week before being run out of Oregon (where he had transferred). The Rams fired him (after 38 penalties in 44 games, seven of them personal fouls, not including an up-your-nostrils tantrum with the head coach). This week, the Dolphins told him enough's enough and dumped him indefinitely for "conduct detrimental to the team" (mostly fat-little-angry-kid bullying, with a suggestion of $15,000 worth of extortion, about which more in a minute).
You may wonder -- and you'd be right -- yes, Richie Incognito is proud of his shamelessness. As he built his reputation, he once took time for an interview with NFL.com. Here's the money quote: "I mean, we'd have practice the next morning, and I'm out until all hours of the night, running the town. Drinking. Doing drugs. I was doing everything that a professional athlete should not be doing."
Drugs? Heaven only knows what potions have moved through the Incognito bloodstream to produce that catastrophe of a heart attack's-coming body. Or, because brains are much in the NFL news, let's guess how many times the Incognito brain has been rattled against its bone box and come awake to discover the raging man below committing another chop block from the blind side. Maybe a hundred times? More?
No one on the outside can know the dynamics of a football team's locker room. Even its occupants cannot be sure how they're producing whatever chemistry there is, good or bad. It's not really a single team. Teams exist within the team, offensive linemen separate from defensive backs, madmen over here, cool heads there, everyone an adrenaline addict fighting to keep his seven-figure job against threats from stronger, angrier, cooler men. So Incognito hangs a sign in his locker saying, "There are two things Richie Incognito does not like: Taxes and rookies."
Ah, rookies. Last weekend on Twitter, the veteran Dolphins defensive end Jared Odrick wrote, "Everything tastes better when rookies pay for it." The allusion was to a $30,000 bill for a team dinner, expected by tradition to be divvied up among the newbies.
Tony Soprano knows that drill. We learned as much in Season 5. Christopher, Tony's protege, forces the old bodyguard, Paulie, to pay a dinner bill. Tony then chastises Christopher, because it's family tradition that the young guys honor their elders by buying dinner. Next time out, Paulie tells everyone to order whatever they want, in order to inflate the tab for Christopher. On a bill of $1,184, Christopher leaves $1,200, the $16 tip infuriating a waiter who pursues the men into a parking lot. Bad idea. Christopher knocks the waiter down with a brick, and, as the poor man goes into convulsions, the panicked Paulie shoots him.
Apparently, Incognito practices the Soprano family's new-kids-pay-for-old-guys philosophy. In the Miami Herald, columnist Greg Cote wrote that second-year offensive tackle Jonathan Martin "says Incognito left him 'threatening and racially charged' text messages and voicemails, and also threatened and pressured Martin into paying $15,000 for Incognito and a few teammates to party in Las Vegas last summer. There is a word for threatening and pressuring someone to give you money against their wishes. Extortion." Martin's money went to Vegas, and he stayed home.
One former NFL executive who dealt with Incognito told me, "I didn't like him. He had toughness, but he never heard the whistle, and rules didn't seem to apply." The Incognito rap sheet includes a note that his peers voted him the NFL's second-dirtiest player. No. 1 in a Sporting News poll last year was another Nebraska worthy, Ndamukong Suh.
The game asks some of its players for rage and rewards that rage. But when the rage is revealed as the true heart of the game's participants -- when we see that the rage controls the man rather than the man controlling the rage -- then we move quickly to punish him today for what we rewarded him for yesterday. So Richie Incognito, who has been paid millions to do what Richie Incognito has always done, has been sent off into a corner of the classroom on a timeout.
Sometimes, the game just stinks. This time, Richie Incognito is the aroma.