ST. LOUIS -- Through his four-plus seasons in St. Louis, Richie Incognito found himself in the middle of plenty of battles, none bigger than the on-going struggle with himself. It’s a fight that seems to continue nearly four years after he played his final game as a Ram.
Arriving in the 2005 NFL draft with a history of off-the-field issues and a serious knee injury that pushed him from possible first-rounder to the third, Incognito’s time in St. Louis was certainly tumultuous. That’s a categorization Incognito wouldn’t deny.
A self described “big kid” when he was in St. Louis, Incognito simply refused to grow up and do what was necessary to be a professional. Off the field, he liked to party and alcohol and drugs were part of his regular diet. On the field, he had little control of his temper.
Incognito was out of control.
"I mean, we'd have practice the next morning, and I'm out until all hours of the night, running the town," Incognito told NFL.com over the summer. "Drinking. Doing drugs. I was doing everything that a professional athlete should not be doing."
Incognito’s failure to control his rage on the field was ultimately what led to his departure from St. Louis. In 44 games with the Rams, he racked up 38 penalties, including seven for unnecessary roughness, the most of any player during that timeframe.
The game he’s, perhaps, most remembered for –- and not in a good way –- was the Week 10 trip to Seattle in 2006 when he managed to pick up a personal foul and holding penalty after a Steven Jackson rushing touchdown had given the Rams a 22-21 lead with about two and a half minutes to go.
Those infractions cost the Rams 25 yards and a chance at a two-point conversion. Seattle eventually kicked a field goal and won 24-22. That loss loomed huge late in the year, when the Rams finished a game short of winning the NFC West to the Seahawks.
In 2009, Incognito was named the NFL’s dirtiest player by the Sporting News, an “award” voted on by a panel of 99 players. It was a designation that didn’t bother Incognito and one he actually took pride in, claiming other players didn’t care for his intensity level.
Through all of that, there were little to no signs that Incognito and his teammates didn’t get along. He was mostly well liked and respected by many of his teammates, particularly on offense because of his fearless attitude on the field and willingness to stand up for them in the heat of a game.
That doesn’t mean Incognito didn’t have his share of run-ins with teammates and even the fans. During one 2006 training camp practice, Incognito got into a pretty serious altercation with little-known cornerback Dwight Anderson.
The 6-foot-3, 320-pound Incognito and generously listed 5-10, 180-pound Anderson twice had to be separated before Anderson was taken to the locker room to cool down.
There also was the time when Incognito helped escalate a 2007 fight between running back Steven Jackson and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, intervening on Jackson’s behalf and eventually flinging a helmet across the field. He gave himself the nickname “The Sheriff” soon after, saying that he’d take it upon himself to dish out justice to anyone who goes after his running back or quarterback.
In 2008, Incognito drew the ire of Rams fans, criticizing them for not knowing how to cheer or when to cheer for a team that was 2-8 at the time. After that week’s game against Chicago, Incognito taunted fans as they booed him on his way to the locker room after a 27-3 loss.
Still, most of the actual run-ins Incognito had with teammates or anyone else were usually a product of his attempts to protect a teammate, however misguided. And, for whatever it’s worth, Incognito generally was friendly to the local media, though there were occasions when it was hard to know what you were going to get in talking to him.
The Rams finally had enough of Incognito in 2009 after he twice head-butted Titans players and then got into a confrontation with then-coach Steve Spagnuolo.
St. Louis released Incognito two days later. On his way out, Incognito acknowledged that moving on was best for him.
"Honestly, I’m excited for the new opportunity," Incognito told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "My stay in St. Louis hasn’t been a glorious one from the get-go. I came in with a lot of doubts. It hasn’t been -- I’m searching for the word -- everything hasn’t been great.
"So in part, I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I get an opportunity to go play for a new team in a new city. I can get away from the negativity that has surrounded me, that has been surrounding my entire career here in St. Louis. So that I’m looking forward to."
At the time, a fresh start clearly was the best option for the troubled Incognito. The move represented hope that he could find some sort of inner peace and go on to a productive career commensurate with his talent.
Four years later, Incognito doesn’t appear to have found that peace. There have been more fights with opponents and confrontations with teammates along the way.
At his core, though, it’s the fight within Incognito that he just can’t seem to settle.