Caught riding dirty

Alonso Tacanga

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What do New England Patriots’ safety Rodney Harrison and San Antonio Spurs’ forward Bruce Bowen have in common?

Yes, they both have won multiple championships. Yes, they both are great defensive players. Yes, they both are older than dirt, but still playing. What else?

Easy. Harrison and Bowen both are dirty as hell. Or at the very least that’s the perception most league observers get from watching these two. Bowen, 37, is known for his suffocating defense and, lately, even more for getting his feet landed often after his defendees take jump shots, something that has resulted in more than one sprained ankle. Harrison, 35, on his part delivers such hard hits when defending that many of them are called illegal and cost him several thousands of dollars in fines.

Heck, Harrison was even VOTED as the NFL’s dirtiest player by a coaches’ poll earlier this year. When the authority of authorities labels you as dirty, you know maybe there’s a point to what they’re saying.

But what really is a dirty player? Is it Harrison, a player who instead of football thinks the game is called ‘who hits the hardest?’ and, in his urge to get the recognition as the baddest, commits dangerous plays? Or is it Bowen, a crafty, hard-working, innocent-looking defensive ace who constantly fouls whoever he shadows even when the basketball is elsewhere, but seldom gets caught?

I say neither. I say that title is only deserved by someone who deliberately hurts the opposition fully knowing what the result will be. Someone who will recur to the lowest techniques in order to win a game, someone who’ll do anything, even if it’s not permitted within the rules of the league or the unwritten honor code. Under this criteria, one name that you might be surprised to read will pop up: Andra Davis, a middle linebacker for the Cleveland Browns. His crime? Merely trying to take his rival’s eyes out.

Davis and an unidentified teammate were accused by the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday of intentionally gouging the eyes of their star running back, Willis McGahee, twice during the Browns’ 28-10 loss to Baltimore on Sept. 21. While the NFL dismissed the charges after reviewing a tape sent by the Ravens, a true dirty play might have gone unpunished. In replays, Davis is seen reaching under McGahee’s visor and poking at his eyes after a tackle in the third quarter.

Now, call me skeptical, but I have a hard time believing a player using a visor got poked in the eye by ‘accident,’ especially when the video shows the opposite. It’s tough to imagine what the NFL was thinking when they decided that there was ‘no evidence’ of an illegal foul. If getting your hand inside a player’s helmet and attacking a body part as sensitive as the eye isn’t dirty, then nothing is.

Davis doesn’t have a single record of being a dirty player, but none of that mattered that Sunday. Plays like that should be what label someone as ‘dirty,’ because it’s premeditated. McGahee was having a great third quarter and Davis’ frustration took over and helped decide a way to stop the runner: Take out his eyes. The injury could have done more than just make McGahee questionable for Monday’s showdown at Pittsburgh, it could have taken an irreversible toll.

Of course, this is all speculation. Davis could have simply found a way into McGahee’s protected vision and inserted fingers in and out of his eyes by accident. No one besides himself truly knows his intentions at the moment. I’m just telling it like I see it. The alleged dirty player even had this to say about the incident:

‘I’ve been playing in this league for seven years and not one person can tell you I’m a dirty player, that I intentionally try to hurt somebody. They’ll tell you that I play hard and I’ll do whatever it takes to win. To permanently hurt somebody . . . there’s no place in football for that.”

Ok, let’s take the heat off Davis for a minute. While football is as tough a sport as there is, there’s nothing as violent as hockey. The NHL has been a nest of ‘dirty’ players due to the nature of the sport. Former NHL’er Chris Simon even had to ‘get away from hockey’

ecause he went cuckoo with his aggressions. Simon was suspended 25 games in March of 2007 for attacking Ryan Hollweg’s face with his hockey stick. He apologized only to be suspended later that same year for stepping on the back of Jarkko Rutuu’s right leg with his skates.

But Simon isn’t a dirty player. What he did qualifies him more as a criminal, given the fact that he assaulted these people and could have done some permanent damage to them.
I have a few more names to add to the true dirty list and another sport to mention: baseball. Old-timer Ty Cobb was as ‘dirty’ as they come, with a reputation of sliding into base sharpened spikes-first. However, my definition of the word will have other gentlemen in the list. For example, former outfielder Jose Canseco and Yankees’ first baseman Jason Giambi stained the game a great deal by using steroids. There’s nothing dirtier than taking drugs to enhance one’s performance over others. It cheats the game. Idle right fielder Sammy Sosa, another cheater, also gets an honorable mention for using a corked bat during a game between the Cubs and Devil Rays in 2003. We’ll never know how many of Sosa’s 609 career home runs were legit and how many were conquered with the help of a cork.

Another case of dirty that relates to that of Davis’ is Robert Horry checking New Orleans forward David West in the back during game 6 of the Spurs and Hornets’ series in last season’s playoffs. West had a bad back going into the game and Horry made sure it didn’t get better. Consequently, West shot only 8-of-19 (dismal by his standards during the series) in game 7 and San Antonio advanced to the West Finals.

Bengals’ quarterback Carson Palmer was also taken out for good from a playoff game in 2006 by a late hit from the Steelers’ Kimo von Oelhoffen. Pittsburgh went on to beat Cincinnati 31-17 and Palmer’s injury was called ‘potentially career-ending’ by his doctor.

Dirty players exist, but the leagues are getting too soft. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to touch a quarterback without expecting a penalty or a fine for it. Some dirty play is even admirable to an extent, because it reminds you that old school ball is still being played.

Horry hip-checking Steve Nash into the scorer’s table was genius. It caused Amare Stoudamire and Boris Diaw to get off their seats and get suspended by a dumb rule. Horry might have never been more clutch than then. If you’re a Suns’ fan, I understand if you disagree.

There’s nothing wrong with Chris Paul pushing off every defender that comes across. It’s an offensive foul, but not a dirty play. All those hard hits that cut former 49ers’ quarterback Steve Young’s career a bit short are part of the game and not dirty. Baseball players running into home plate with all they’ve got trying to knock over the catcher is exciting and far from a foul play.

Karl Malone elbowing the bleep out of anyone who dared challenge him for a rebound was annoying for any non-Utah follower, but it wasn’t’hellip;ok maybe that was dirty. Let’s lighten up and learn to recognize true filth in sports.