NFC North: Conrad Dobler

Like Ndamukong Suh himself, you pulled no punches during our Have at It debate this week. I asked for specific instances and context to support claims that Suh is a dirty player, and most of you indicated there are no smoking guns other than the well-worn instances we've spent the past 14 or so months discussing.

I thought it was important to work under a narrow definition of "dirty" play and suggested it be confined to a blatant attempt outside the rules to injure an opponent. To me, the only applicable play in Suh's career was his August 2010 hit on Cleveland Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiDoes Ndamukong Suh, right, deserve the "dirty player" label?
At the same time, I understand why some of you protested what that definition excluded. Iomaxx02 wrote: "A player can be dirty without attempting to injure. Extra hits after the whistle, the roughing penalties, etc. Those actions may not intend to injure the players involved, but doesn't mean they are 'clean' plays."

There have been a number of such instances in Suh's career, when he has been rough but perhaps not overtly intending to injure an opponent. Some of you noted his post-play shove of Atlanta Falcons offensive Joe Hawley last week and his after-whistle shoves of New England Patriots offensive lineman Logan Mankins during the preseason. Neither drew a penalty during the game, although Suh was probably fortunate in both cases.

Regardless of whether you define those plays as dirty or simply rough, some of you believe they have helped build a deserved but general reputation over time that is otherwise short of blatant examples.

"Where there is smoke, there is fire," wrote Les_Grossman. "This guy's done plenty to create a real perception," opined sundevilaw. Biggest Cheese offered an interesting comparison and analogy to explain what amounts to a buildup of non-specific evidence:
"Find me BJ Raji or some other 'non-dirty' defensive lineman clips that are comparable to those plays listed above? You can excuse one or two borderline plays, but when you start accumulating a list of them, it says something.

"My mother claims she’s not a bad driver. She averaged about 2 accidents per year for 5 years. Not a single one was her fault legally. But at some point, you've got to assume she’s a bad driver."
Tearloch, meanwhile, wondered if Suh is his own worst enemy for taking shots "that most players would avoid." Last season against the Chicago Bears, for example, Suh "was close enough to wrap up" quarterback Jay Cutler from behind and possibly take a swipe at the ball. Instead, Suh chose to hit Cutler with a forearm shiver to the back that was technically legal but so violent it fooled referee Ed Hochuli into thinking it was a blow to the head.

In the end, wrote Flinstone93: "For all the accusations, very little has come about in terms of evidence, which is one of Suh's problems with the media. Part of it he brings on himself -- the whole 'Don't judge me without knowing me, but I'll never let you get to know me' shtick is a tired one and he should really be above it. … But we've got to be careful our perception doesn't become our reality."

My take? I really think the "dirty" tag should be saved for the absolute worst instances in NFL history of play outside rules and/or sportsmanship. If we think Ndamukong Suh is dirty, then what should we call Jack Tatum, whose nickname was "The Assassin"? What was Bill Romanowski, who spit in an opponent's face and broke a quarterback's jaw? What about Conrad Dobler, who "punched and kneed and (on special occasions) gnawed on defensive linemen," according to this profile by ESPN.com's Michael Weinreb.

Were they just really, really dirty?

I hope we can all agree that Suh isn't in the Tatum-Romanowski-Dobler category. There have been some instances when Suh probably could control himself better, but no one produced evidence that suggested he routinely is attempting to hurt opponents -- let alone punching, kneeing, spitting, biting or chewing them. When I think of a dirty player, that's what comes to mind.

At the same time, I think his public plight is an excellent example of how many people value first impressions. Fair or otherwise, the first NFL play many people saw of Suh was the preseason hit on Delhomme. That's all it took to start the ball rolling and increase scrutiny on his every move. I don't think Ndamukong Suh is a dirty player, at least by my definition, but I understand why not everyone sees it that way.

SPONSORED HEADLINES