Are you sensing a bit of a trend between legendary defensive players and dirty players? Indeed, the two seem to go hand in hand in some regards.
In this case, Butkus was one of the best linebackers in NFL history and the face of the vaunted Chicago Bears’ “Monsters of the Midway” for many years. During his playing years, Butkus was regarded as a man who played with no regard for his opponents’ safety. It earned him a legendary career and a Hall of Fame induction, but also a spot among the dirtiest players of all-time.
Schlereth is a legendary Bronco who played with John Elway during their Super Bowl-winning runs of the late 1990s. What he is not legendary for is his love of the now-banned chop blocks.
He and his Broncos linemates were notorious for targeting opposing players’ knees, and they rarely hid that fact. In fact, Schlereth once said, “they were throwing 15-16 cut blocks a game. We were throwing 40.” Lovely.
At least that practice is outlawed in the NFL nowadays.
Cecil was a runaway freight train famous for leading with his head. His style of tackling was vicious, but also inaccurate as he launched himself into his opponents like a missile.
He was repeatedly fined for leading with his helmet, and his career did not last all that long because he did. Despite the fact that he wore a special helmet with additional padding due to his violent style, he was forced into retirement after sustaining multiple concussions.
Harrison is a great safety who won two Super Bowls and holds the record for most sacks in NFL history at the position. He was also one of the dirtiest players to ever play.
He quickly gained a reputation for vicious head-to-head hits. Harrison was voted the dirtiest player in the NFL by his peers in both 2004 and 2006. NFL coaches gave him the title in 2008. He was also suspended in 2002 for a head-to-hit hit on NFL legend Jerry Rice. Overall, he was fined more than $200,000 for illegal hits in his career.
Like Harrison, Finnegan was also voted the dirtiest player in the NFL at one point in 2010. It was a title he seemed to relish in, proving his sheer dirtiness.
Finnegan was known for talking trash and grabbing opponents, or really anything that will potentially impede their performance. It led to several on-field fights, the most notorious being his dust-up with former Houston Texan Andre Johnson.
A member of the notorious Oakland Raiders, Tatum was another headhunting hitter on the list. He even earned the nickname “The Assassin” due to his propensity for lowering the boom with helmet-to-helmet hits. He was only 5’10” and 200 pounds, hardly big for the NFL even in his day.
So he made up for it with his hitting style. And it worked, as he was known as one of the hardest hitters in NFL history. He made three straight Pro Bowls and also won a Super Bowl in Oakland. However, he’s most well known for his hit on former Pats wide receiver Darryl Stingley that left his target paralyzed from the chest down.
Williams was a great safety in his own right, but he became notorious for injuring players with the now-banned horse collar tackle throughout his career. His most famous incident of such a hit was when he broke former Philadelphia Eagle Terrell Owens’ leg with one.
He injured three players using horse collar tackles in the 2004 season alone. Because of his dirty hits, Williams was fined by the NFL and earned a spot high on this list.
Harrison is a Super Bowl champion who owns the Steelers’ all-time record for sacks with 80.5. He’s also a brutalizing linebacker who gained a reputation for headhunting players in the middle of the field.
He was also known as one of the bigger cheap shot artists in the league. They led to an absolutely massive amount of fines and penalties over the course of his career.
Now we’re getting up into the rarified air of the dirtiest NFL players of all-time. Incognito came into the league with quite the notorious reputation, and not in a good way. He upheld that rep by promptly becoming one of the dirtiest players in the league.
For example, in 2008, was fined $35,000 for three separate infractions against the Redskins – a personal foul for abusing an official, a chop block, and a major facemask. Three in one game. He also has a history of earning two or more personal fouls in the span of single games.
But the incident that took the proverbial cake was his 2014 taunting of former teammate Jonathan Martin, who reportedly considered suicide because of Incognito’s racially based taunting. He was suspended for the remainder of the season at the time. A complete and utter scumbag.
4. Conrad Dobler – St. Louis Cardinals, Saints & Bills:
Although not known by many of the NFL’s current fans, Dobler is nonetheless one of the NFL’s dirtiest players ever.
He was even accused of biting an opponent at one point. While Dobler claims that his reputation as a dirty player is at least somewhat unwarranted, he didn’t do himself any favors by failing to deny he attempted to injure players. He was known to punch and even kick his opponents throughout his controversial career.
The hulking Suh could legitimately be called the dirtiest player in the NFL if not for the two notorious names that follow him on this list. But that doesn’t take anything away from his overall dirtiness.
Suh is undoubtedly one of the most imposing forces in the league when it comes to defensive tackles. He’s also been one of the highest-paid over the last several years. However, that hasn’t stopped him from stomping on opponents after the whistle is blown. He has also started multiple fights on the field. There’s just no reason for a star like this to behave like he does.
2. Bill Romanowski – 49ers, Eagles, Broncos & Raiders:
Romanowski was a powerful force who played linebacker with the utmost ferocity. But he took that a bit too far more often than not. He was known for repeated cheap shots and late hits.
Perhaps his most notorious dirtiness, however, came when he was repeatedly accused of being racist. The incidents that prompted the accusations were when he kicked RB Larry Centers in the head and spat on San Francisco receiver J.J. Stokes. He topped all that off by physically removing Eddie George’s helmet in 2002. He even punched former teammate Marcus Williams during a scrimmage scuffle in 2003, forcing him to retire when he broke his orbital bone.
There’s just no other name who could top the list of the dirtiest players in NFL history. Burfict is a picture of dirtiness. Burfict was an elite talent in college at Arizona State University, but he wasn’t even drafted because of his off-the-handle tendencies. He latched on with the Cincinnati Bengals and promptly became one of the worst jerks in the league.
He has racked up an unheard-of $4.2 million in fines and subsequently lost salary as the result of suspensions over the course of his career. But all of that pales in comparison to his disgusting 2016 hit on former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown that cost the Bengals a playoff win. The illegal hit came on a fourth-and-long and was completely unnecessary, but it concussed Brown and got Burfict suspended. The Bengals have not won a playoff game for 28 years and that was their best chance by far. Oddly enough, Brown and Burfict are now teammates in Oakland of all places.
That doesn’t change the fact that Burfict is the dirtiest player in NFL history.