Football is a rough, physical sport filled with violent collisions and players who seem to take pride, and perhaps even some measure of joy in beating and battering one another. But every now and then, a player will enter the league who isn't content with the standard -run of the mill-garden variety beatings administered on a weekly basis. Sometimes, a player will have bad intentions and go out of his way to inflict pain and injury upon another player.
Cheap shot artists and dirty players are as deeply ingrained into the lore of the NFL as any Super Bowl winning quarterback. Sometimes, these guys are revered for taking the violence to another level and for perhaps playing just beyond the whistle if it means they get a chance to blow somebody up.
The league has tried to crack down on the cheap shots, but suspensions and even fines have proven to be little deterrent to some of the league's most notoriously dirty players. Tough, hard-nosed, physical football is one thing. But cheap shots are something else entirely – they can and have ended the careers of some players.
There have been cheap, dirty players in the league since the dawn of time. And there will undoubtedly be cheap shot artists in the league until the end of days. It's just a fact of life in the world of football.
With that in mind then, here are the 25 dirtiest players ever to put on an NFL uniform...
25 Deacon Jones
Jones was as fierce a competitor as you'd ever find in the league. And he had a real knack for getting after the opposing quarterbacks, racking up more than 130 before it was even an official statistic. Jones employed a variety of moves to beat an offensive lineman – and some of them were even legal! But perhaps his most infamous move was the Head-Slap. Jones would quite literally punch somebody in the earhole of their helmet, and while their bell was ringing, he would blow by them and head straight into the backfield.
24 Albert Haynesworth
On the football field, Haynesworth was more or less just a waste of space. He never lived up to his potential and worst of all, he didn't even try. What he was though, was one heck of a dirty player. He had a penchant for delivering cheap shots whenever he was able to which led to many penalties, as well as a lot of money coughed up in fines.
23 Mark Schlereth
It's perhaps not entirely fair to single out Schlereth alone when the entire Broncos offensive line – back in the heady heydays of John Elway and Terrell Davis – was one of the dirtiest units in NFL history. But it's Schlereth's near glee in describing how they'd go out of their way to target the knees of the opposing defenders they were throwing cut blocks at – a practice that has since been banned by the league. Schlereth defended himself of course, using the “hey, everybody is doing it” defense, famously stating that the only differences between Denver's line and other teams was that “they were throwing 15-16 cut blocks a game. We were throwing 40.” It's his obvious enjoyment of their reputation as cheap shot artists that land him on this list.
22 Jason Babin
As a player who at one time was coached by Chuck Cecil, it's not much of a surprise to see Babin wind up on a list like this. Ask Philip Rivers, who very nearly had his knees taken out by a charging Babin. He's been fined quite a bit of money by the league for hits deemed “unsafe.”
21 Hines Ward
Some call him competitive – mostly his teammates. Others call him a cheap shot artist – mostly his opponents. Whatever he is though, Ward is intense. The NFL didn't take an official stand on whether he's competitive or dirty, but they did adopt a rule aimed at curbing the sort of blocks Ward was fond of throwing – above the shoulders of unsuspecting and unaware players – because, you know, somebody could get hurt like that.
20 Rodney Harrison
A two-time Pro Bowler, and two-time Super Bowl champ, the former New England Patriot and San Diego Chargers safety Rodney Harrison was known as one of the biggest, most intimidating players in the league. The trouble was, he was also a head hunter and drilled a number of players with cheap shots. His play was so dirty in fact, that he racked up more than $200,000 dollars in fines.
19 Chuck Cecil
Cecil had a brief seven-year career in the NFL, primarily with the Packers. But in his short tenure, he developed a reputation for being one of the biggest hitters in the league – and also for taking quite a few cheap shots by leading with his helmet. A practice that led to a number of injuries and subsequent fines for Cecil.
18 Richie Incognito
The whole bullying fiasco aside, Incognito was downright thuggish on the field. He quickly earned a reputation as a guy that would hit, kick, grab, and scratch you. He was the guy on the bottom of the pile giving everybody the business. Even before the Jonathan Martin episode, he wasn't very well liked because of his cheap shots and arrogance.
17 James Harrison
If you ever wondered whether or not former Steelers linebacker James Harrison was a cheap shot artist, just ask former Browns QB Colt McCoy who is probably still seeing stars to this day after Harrison laid him out like a sheet. Harrison was a walking fine machine who paid the NFL more than most of us will make in a lifetime for his many illegal hits. Not that the threat of fines ever deterred him from taking a cheap shot or anything.
16 Steve Wisniewski
A highly talented and relentless former Raiders offensive lineman, “The Wiz” was also known for engaging in some extracurricular activities on the field. He was never afraid to mix it up or take a cheap poke at a defensive lineman. While not as vicious as say, a Mark Schlereth, Wiz was never afraid to take a cheap shot where he thought he could get away with it.
15 Jack Tatum
Never one of the biggest guys on the field, Tatum built a career on a fearless and even reckless playing style that earned him the nickname “The Assassin.” He was a big hitter who enjoyed lowering the boom on opposing players. But he had a habit of leading with his helmet though, and that habit combined with his big hitting style led to Patriots WR Darryl Stingley being paralyzed after a particularly devastating hit.
14 Cortland Finnegan
Finnegan is well known around the league as a guy who talks a lot of trash and will hit, kick and grab you anywhere he can to slow you down. Though many consider him a good guy, many other consider him a cheap shot artist of the highest order – so much so that in a poll conducted by his peers in 2012, Finnegan was ranked the 3rd dirtiest player in the league.
13 Lyle Alzado
Alzado was a guy who would do anything to win a ballgame. And we do mean anything. He'd go up into the stands to punch your mother if it meant winning. Alzado was a madman on the field and a particularly nasty cheap shot artist. But he had a certain roguish charm to him.
12 Andre Waters
Waters, the longtime safety for the Eagles, was also one of the biggest hitters the game has ever seen. Of course, he was also one of the dirtiest players the league has ever seen as well, often targeting the knees of opposing quarterbacks with the intent to injure – a practice that led to the NFL adopting a rule that stated defenders couldn't hit a QB below the waist when they were in the pocket.
11 Shawne Merriman
There always seemed to be something a little off about Merriman. He played with a reckless abandon, had a knack for getting under his opponent's skin – his constant cheap shots and dirty tactics might have had something to do with that though. Merriman did whatever he could get away with, whenever he could – some legal, most of it not – landing him on this list.
10 Brian Dawkins
In 2009, Dawkins was voted – by his peers – as one of the dirtiest players in the NFL in a piece that appeared in Sports Illustrated. He was well known to lead with his helmet with the intent to injure, and frequently threw hits on unprotected players well after the whistle.
9 Bart Scott
Scott had never been thought of as a dirty player by most until he went out of his way to throw a hit on running back Reggie Bush's ankle that knocked him out of the game – something he clearly did intentionally. It was that hit where Scott was slapped with the “dirty player” label that followed him for the rest of his career.
8 T.J. Ward
Ward was a rookie in 2010 and made an immediate impression – by laying out Cincinnati Bengals receiver Jordan Shipley with a vicious helmet to helmet hit. Ward was flagged on the play and was slapped with a $15,000 fine by the NFL – and immediately earned a reputation as a dirty player.
7 Chris Clemons
Clemons is a fast and fierce pass rusher. But his zeal to get to the opposing quarterbacks is so great, he crosses that line from passionate playmaker to cheap shot artist. Clemons has been fined by the league multiple times for late hits on defenseless quarterbacks.
6 Conrad Dobler
Over the course of a decade long career, former Cardinals, Saints, and Bills offensive guard Conrad Dobler made quite the name for himself as one of the dirtiest players to ever play the game. Though, there is some debate about the exact nature of his cheap shots. While some contend that he went out of his way to inflict pain – even going so far as to bite and opponent – Dobler himself denies the truth of the charge. Though, he doesn't deny ever grabbing, kicking, and even punching opposing defenders.
5 Bill Romanowski
Of course Romo was going to wind up on this list. As an NFL linebacker, he was relentless and brutal. But he often crossed that line between competitive and dirty play. He was very well known to take cheap shots on opposing quarterbacks and ball carriers. Perhaps his biggest cheap shot though, and the thing that he will always be remembered as a dirty player for, was when he spit in the face of 49ers receiver JJ Stokes. Not that Romo cares since he relishes the role of the villain.
4 Jared Allen
There are undoubtedly many who would disagree with putting Allen on this list. However, he has on more than one occasion targeted a QB's knees with an “aggressive” hit. Just ask Matt Schaub if he thinks Allen is dirty after Allen hit him in the knees in 2008, causing him to miss the next few games.
3 Roy Williams
Safety Roy Williams lands on this list for nearly killing a lot of people. Williams was flagged – and fined – a number of times for horse-collar tackling opponents. Not only is it an illegal tackle, it's also incredibly dangerous and can lead to serious injury or even death.
2 Darnell Dockett
Cardinals defensive lineman Dockett is one of the game's most epic trash talkers. He's a fantastic pass rusher, but he's also one of the dirtier players in the game who's been fined on multiple occasions. Just a few seasons ago, he pushed his elbow into quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's throat following a sack and kept the pressure on far longer than necessary to make his point.
1 Ndamukong Suh
Of course Suh wound up at the top of the list. Would you expect any less? Given his penchant for hitting, kicking, stomping on the appendages of his opponents – and paying tens of thousands of dollars in fines for his actions – there is no way he couldn't wind up at the top of this list – a place he'll likely stay for a while.
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