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Top 15 Dirtiest players in NFL History: The Steelers dominate the list

Publish Date: 06/09/2024
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

Who are the dirtiest players in NFL history? Some are pretty obvious, others not so much. Most on the list are recent because the rules pre-1980 were much more lenient on dirty play, and the league used to promote the violence before they became woke, which means before they got sued for concussion-related activities. This list will give you the top 10 dirtiest players and our list of five honorable mention players.

Criteria

All the guys on this list were great players, but that’s not why they made it. They made this list because they took things past the echo of the whistle or spitting, biting, etc. during the play. Many of these men played on some of the greatest defenses in NFL history.

10. Richie Incognito

In 2008, he was fined $35,000 for three offenses against the Redskins: personal foul, chop block and major facemask in one game – all incurred during one matchup against them. He has an unfortunate habit of incurring two or more personal fouls per game!

His 2014 taunting of former teammate Jonathan Martin reportedly led him to consider suicide due to Incognito’s racist taunting, for which he was suspended for the remainder of that season – truly disgusting behavior!

Video: Guard Richie Incognito “Nasty”

Guard Richie Incognito “Nasty”

9. Rodney Harrison

Harrison quickly gained a reputation for his punishing head-to-head hits. Voted the dirtiest player by both peers and coaches in 2004 and 2006, and coaches selected Harrison again as a Dirtiest Player Award recipient in 2008. Furthermore, in 2002 he was suspended due to an illegal hit on Jerry Rice; ultimately, fines totalling more than $200,000 were levied against his career for illegal hits.

Video: Rodney Harrison Nightmare

Rodney Harrison Nightmare

8. Hines Ward

Longtime veteran Hines Ward often used an illegal blindside block, leading to several injuries.

Keith Rivers missed most of 2008 due to Ward’s jaw-breaking blindside block on him; as a result, the “Hines Ward Rule” made it illegal for players using helmets, forearms or shoulders to hit unknowing defenders in the head or neck area.

Video: 2008 - Hines Ward Huge Block on Rivers

2008 – Hines Ward Huge Block on Rivers

7. Cortland Finnegan

Finnegan was renowned for engaging in verbal confrontation and physically attacking opponents he perceived would impede their performance, often leading to on-field fights – the most notable one with former Houston Texan Andre Johnson.

Video: Andre Johnson fights Cortland Finnegan (HQ) BEST NFL FIGHT! BEST HQ

Andre Johnson fights Cortland Finnegan (HQ) BEST NFL FIGHT! BEST HQ

6. Jack Tatum

Tatum was another key member of the Oakland Raiders known for their headhunting style of play and earned himself the moniker “The Assassin.” Due to his knack for dropping the boom with helmet-to-helmet hits, his name stuck. Although only 5’10”, 200 pounds was nothing close to big for NFL standards back then.

So he made up for it with his hitting style, becoming one of the hardest hitters in NFL history. This earned him three Pro Bowl selections and even won him one Super Bowl ring with Oakland – however he is most known for hitting former Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley which left him paralyzed from chest down. Tatum was one of the greatest Raider safeties of all-time.

Video: Jack Tatum hit

Jack Tatum hit

5. Ndamukong Suh

Suh was one of the premier defensive tackles in the league, earning himself one of the highest salaries over time. But that hasn’t stopped him from stomping on opponents after the whistle is blown and initiating multiple fights on the field – all without reason or justification from such a star player!

Video: Ndamukong Suh Dirtiest Plays

Ndamukong Suh Dirtiest Plays

4. Conrad Dobler

Dobler was accused of biting one opponent, although this wasn’t confirmed until later in his career. While Dobler claims his reputation as a dirty player is at least partly unwarranted, failing to deny attempts at injuring players only compounded their image; punching and even kicking his opponents during games weren’t uncommon either.

Video: NFL Films: Conrad Dobler

NFL Films: Conrad Dobler

3. James Harrison

He became well-known as one of the premier cheap-shot players in the league, which led to numerous fines and penalties over his career. Harrison was an intense great player who made the Steelers a tough opponent to score on.

He was a great player and leader, and his play style would have been much more appreciated thirty years ago.

Video: James Harrison Hit on Mohamed Massaquoi

James Harrison Hit on Mohamed Massaquoi

2. Vontaze Burfict

Burfict epitomizes filth. A standout at Arizona State, Burfict was overlooked for the draft due to his outgoing personality and off-the-handle behavior. Instead, he joined up with the Cincinnati Bengals where he quickly established himself as one of the dirtiest players in the league.

If he had played in the ’60s and ’70s, he might have been a hall of fame, and his career would have probably lasted at least another five years. Burfict in another time would have been appreciated, to bad in this time he couldn’t control himself and his actions.

Video: Vontaze Burfict Dirty Plays and Moments Compilation

Vontaze Burfict Dirty Plays and Moments Compilation

1. Bill Romanowski

Romanowski was a formidable force who played linebacker with intensity. But sometimes that went too far; he became notorious for taking cheap shots and late hits against opponents.

Romo was even known to spit on players and while he was a good player it was over-shadowed by the way he conducted himself on the field.

Video: Meet the DIRTIEST Player in NFL History

Meet the DIRTIEST Player in NFL History

Honorable Mentions

Shawne Merriman

Merriman successfully advocated for a rule change which stated any player testing positive for steroids could not be selected for the Pro Bowl or awarded performance-related accolades in their year of test positivity. When you have such an impactful rule named in your honor due to dirty activities like this one, then you belong on this list.

Joey Porter

Porter gained notoriety when he ran past Browns punter Chris Gardocki and tackled him, leaving Gardocki motionless before awakening and flipping off Steelers coach Bill Cowher. Porter later moved on to Arizona Cardinals before being named second-dirtiest player in the NFL by peers in 2009.

Video: Joey Porter Bengals

Joey Porter Bengals

Albert Haynesworth

Haynesworth was known to play dirty. In 2006, Haynesworth unceremoniously took action against Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Andre Gurode of opposing team Dallas Cowboys by taking off his helmet and stamping hard on his head; Gurode received 30 stitches for his wound; afterward he experienced blurred vision and pain that still persists today. Haynesworth received an unprecedented five-game suspension, making this incident one of the longest NFL history related to an in-game incident.

Video: 2006 - Albert Haynesworth Stomp Ejection

2006 – Albert Haynesworth Stomp Ejection

Ray Lewis

Lewis earned a reputation for dirty hits during his illustrious playing career. This was highlighted by two $25,000 fines in 2010. Thirty-five at the time, Lewis continued making hits that garnered league officials’ notice and caused two fines even in his waning years as a player. Lewis is considered one of the greatest defensive players in NFL History.

Video: Ray Lewis' MOST BRUTAL TACKLES! | NFL Highlights

Ray Lewis’ MOST BRUTAL TACKLES! | NFL Highlights

Roy Williams

Williams was an outstanding safety in his own right, yet became notorious for injuring players with the now-prohibited horse collar tackle throughout his career. Most famously, this technique caused Terrell Owens of the Philadelphia Eagles to suffer a broken leg.

Williams injured three players using horse collar tackles during the 2004 NFL season alone and as a result was fined by the league, earning him a place on this list.

Video: Roy Williams dirtiest plays

Roy Williams dirtiest plays

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