Vontaze Burfict and the Dirtiest Players in NFL History
Vontaze Burfict played eight seasons as a linebacker in the NFL and cemented his reputation as a dirty player. His career came to a close in 2019 due to the cheap shots and late hits he put on opponents.
But Burfict isn't the first player known for dirty play in the NFL. Not by a long shot. The list of players defined by dirty play includes some of the greatest names to ever play the game, and goes back to the very origins of football.
These are the dirtiest players in NFL history and where they rank. You might be surprised where Burfict lands.
30. James Harrison, Outside Linebacker
Born: May 4, 1978 (Akron, Ohio)
High school: Coventry High School (Akron, Ohio)
College: Kent State
Career: 14 seasons (2004-17)
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers (2004-12, 2014-17), Cincinnati Bengals (2013), New England Patriots (2017)
Career highlights: Two-time Super Bowl champion (2005, 2008), NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2008), four-time NFL All-Pro (2007-10), five-time Pro Bowl (2007-11)
Bottom line: It pains us to put James Harrison on this list because his career was pretty much the definition of a long shot becoming an NFL star. He spent two seasons on practice squads and in NFL Europe before he made the Pittsburgh Steelers roster in 2004.
Harrison's list of violent incidents are too numerous to name here, but it should be pointed out that in a single game against the Cleveland Browns in 2010 he rendered two of their wide receivers unconscious — Mohammed Massaquoi and Harrison's college teammate, Josh Cribbs.
29. Aqib Talib, Defensive Back
Born: Feb 13, 1986 (Cleveland, Ohio)
High School: Berkner High School (Richardson, Texas)
Career: 12 seasons (2008-19)
Teams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2008-12), New England Patriots (2012-13), Denver Broncos (2014-17), Los Angeles Rams (2018-19), Miami Dolphins (2019)
Career highlights: Super Bowl champion (2015), two-time NFL All-Pro (2013, 2016), five-time Pro Bowl (2013-17)
Bottom line: Aqib Talib was a talented player, no doubt. He made five Pro Bowls and was a two-time NFL All-Pro selection.
But he was as dirty as they come when it came to the cornerback position. The former University of Kansas All-American (not many of those) had a propensity for poking opponents in the eye and for sucker-punching teammates and cab drivers.
Talib has flipped the script on his career somewhat as an NFL analyst, but if you had any clue as an NFL fan during the 2010s, you know he's one of the dirtiest players in league history.
28. Mark Schlereth, Guard/Center
Born: Jan. 25, 1966 (Anchorage, Alaska)
High school: Service High School (Anchorage, Alaska)
Career: 12 seasons (1989-2000)
Teams: Washington Redskins (1989-94), Denver Broncos (1995-2000)
Career highlights: Three-time Super Bowl champion (1991, 1997, 1998), two-time Pro Bowl (1991, 1998), Denver Broncos 50th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: If you understand high school football at all, then you know the massive odds working against any high school football player in Alaska who has dreams of making it to the NFL. So if Mark Schlereth had to mix in a few more cut blocks on his way to becoming a three-time Super Bowl champion, well, if only that was it.
Schlereth was maybe, in the literal sense, the dirtiest player in NFL history. He was also known to urinate on himself intentionally during games to make life worse for his opponents. Which is beyond gross.
Schlereth, in his defense, took it as well as he gave it out, and by the time he retired following the 2000 season, he'd undergone 15 knee surgeries.
27. T.J. Ward, Safety
Born: Dec. 12, 1986 (San Francisco, California)
High school: De La Salle High School (Concord, California)
Career: 8 seasons (2010-17)
Teams: Cleveland Browns (2010-13), Denver Broncos (2014-16), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2017)
Career highlights: Super Bowl champion (2015), NFL All-Pro (2013), two-time Pro Bowl (2013, 2014), PFWA All-Rookie Team (2010)
Bottom line: T.J. Ward wasted little time establishing himself as a dirty player when he entered the NFL, racking up fines for helmet-to-helmet hits and taking cheap shots at his opponents.
Ward's worst moment came in 2013, when he went low on New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and tore his ACL. It was also unfortunate for Ward because the play largely overshadowed his only All-Pro season.
26. Lyle Alzado, Defensive End
Born: April 3, 1949 (Brooklyn, New York)
Died: May 14, 1992 (age 43, Portland, Oregon)
High school: Lawrence High School (Cedarhurst, New York)
College: Yankton College
Career: 15 seasons (1971-85)
Teams: Denver Broncos (1971-78), Cleveland Browns (1979-81), Los Angeles Raiders (1982-85)
Career highlights: Super Bowl champion (1983), NFL Comeback Player of the Year (1982), three-time NFL All-Pro (1977, 1978, 1980), two-time Pro Bowl (1977, 1978)
Bottom line: Few NFL players have been such a different person off the field as they were on the field as All-Pro defensive lineman Lyle Alzado, who made it to the NFL out of tiny Yankton College in South Dakota.
Alzado was beyond fierce on the field. In fact, the NFL had to make a specific rule for him about not ripping off an opponent's helmet and throwing it. He played with a steroid-fueled rage, the consumption of which would lead to the end of his life in 1992, at 43 years old.
Off the field, Alzado was routinely described as a "gentle giant" by teammates and was known for his philanthropy and received many awards for his community service efforts.
25. Danny Trevathan, Linebacker
Born: March 24 ,1990 (Youngstown, Ohio)
High school: Leesburgh High School (Leesburg, Florida)
Career: 10 seasons (2012-21)
Teams: Denver Broncos (2012-15), Chicago Bears (2016-21)
Career highlights: Super Bowl champion (2015)
Bottom line: Danny Trevathan went from a sixth-round draft pick to a Super Bowl champion and the top available free-agent inside linebacker in 2016 when he bounced from the Denver Broncos to the Chicago Bears on a four-year, $28 million contract.
Trevathan is probably best known for a hit that almost ended the career of Green Bay Packers wide receiver Devante Adams in 2017. Trevathan delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on Adams that knocked him unconscious and came when Adams was already locked up and defenseless.
It garnered Trevathan a two-game suspension and untold damage to his reputation.
24. Dominic Raiola, Center
Born: Dec. 30, 1978 (Honolulu, Hawaii)
High school: Saint Louis School (Honolulu, Hawaii)
Career: 14 seasons (2001-14)
Teams: Detroit Lions
Career highlights: None
Bottom line: Center Dominic Raiola played football with an intensity and level of violence that was sometimes hard to watch.
After an All-American career at the University of Nebraska, Raiola played his entire 14-year NFL career with the Detroit Lions — which could make anybody angry. Raiola's career was littered with cheap shots and late hits (punk moves), but he was also a bully, verbally assaulting and mocking the University of Wisconsin band members during pregame warmups game in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 2013.
In a rare move, the NFL singled out Raiola's "apology" as having not been written by him, which he didn't deny. "We have more important things to worry about, like wins and losses," Raiola said.
In 14 seasons, Raiola had two winning seasons and went 0-3 in the postseason.
23. Brandon Meriweather, Safety
Born: Jan. 14, 1984 (Apopka, Florida)
High school: Apopka High School (Apopka, Florida)
Career: 9 seasons (2007-15)
Teams: New England Patriots (2007-10), Chicago Bears (2011), Washington Redskins (2012-14), New York Giants (2015)
Career highlights: Two-time Pro Bowl (2009, 2010)
Bottom line: There's something in the water at Apopka High School. The tiny Florida town produced two of the players who can count themselves among the dirtiest in NFL history, safety Brandon Meriweather and Warren Sapp, both of whom also played college football at the University of Miami.
Meriweather brought home the Heavy Hitter Award at Miami but saw his draft stock slip during a wild brawl between Miami and Florida International, when Meriweather was seen stomping on several players on the ground.
In the NFL, that inclination toward dirty play continued. In 2013, following years and years of helmet-to-helmet hits and fines, Meriweather was finally suspended for two games. His response? Publicly saying he would "have to start blowing out guys' ACLs." What a jerk.
22. 'Mean' Joe Greene, Defensive Tackle
Born: Sept. 24, 1946 (Temple, Texas)
High school: Dunbar High School (Temple, Texas)
College: North Texas
Career: 13 seasons (1969-81)
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers
Career highlights: Four-time Super Bowl champion (1974, 1975, 1978, 1979), two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1972, 1974), NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (1969), eight-time NFL All-Pro (1971-77, 1979), 10-time Pro Bowl (1969-76, 1978, 1979), NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary Team, NFL 100th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: There's a reason someone gets tabbed with a nickname like "Mean." And Mean Joe Greene's nickname was one of the most ubiquitous in NFL history.
The ultra-intimidating defensive tackle was part of the legendary Steel Curtain defense for the Pittsburgh Steelers and won four Super Bowls in the 1970s, along with legions of fans. The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year was also a famous pitchman for Coca-Cola, creating one of the most famous commercials in pro sports history.
For all of the good press he got, Greene was almost uncontrollable on the field. Opponents were punched, spit on and kicked when they were on the ground. And few players have had a hatred for officials like Greene did.
21. Cortland Finnegan, Defensive Back
Born: Feb. 2, 1984 (Fayetteville, North Carolina)
High school: Milton High School (Milton, Florida)
Career: 10 seasons (2006-15)
Teams: Tennessee Titans (2006-11), St. Louis Rams (2012-13), Miami Dolphins (2014), Carolina Panthers (2015)
Career highlights: NFL All-Pro (2008), Pro Bowl (2008)
Bottom line: Cortland Finnegan made his reputation early on in the NFL as a world-class pest — a reputation that included goading and prodding opponents.
In one of the great moments of comeuppance in NFL history, Finnegan's long-standing beef with Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson came to a head in 2010 when Johnson, one of the league’s most soft-spoken stars, finally came unglued after Finnegan continued to poke Johnson's head and face off the line of scrimmage.
Thesight of two NFL players with their helmets off, fighting on the field, proved infinitely rewatchable. As did the sight of Johnson pummeling Finnegan, who received little sympathy.
Both players were fined $50,000, and Finnegan joined Robin Ventura and Jose Bautista in the pantheon of pro athletes who caught hands in front of a nationally televised audience.
20. Deacon Jones, Defensive End
Born: Dec. 9, 1938 (Eatonville, Florida)
Died: June 3, 2013 (age 74, Anaheim Hills, California
High school: Hungerford High School (Eatonville, Florida)
College: Mississippi Valley State
Career: 14 seasons (1961-74)
Teams: Los Angeles Rams (1961-71), San Diego Chargers (1972-73), Washington Redskins (1974)
Career highlights: Two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1967, 1968), eight-time NFL All-Pro (1964-70, 1972), eight-time Pro Bowl (1965-70, 1972), NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, NFL 100th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: One of the most intimidating defensive players in NFL history, it's a shame that sacks weren't recorded during Deacon Jones' NFL career — which was probably because it was Jones who actually invented the term sack in the first place.
Jones' devastating head slap move knocked many offensive lineman senseless during his career, and despite it not being illegal at the time, ear-holing someone is about as dirty as it gets in football on any level.
Jones died in 2013 at 74 years old.
19. Kevin Gogan, Guard/Tackle
Born: Nov. 2, 1964 (Pacifica, California)
High school: Sacred Heart Prep (San Francisco, California)
Career: 14 seasons (1987-2000)
Teams: Dallas Cowboys (1987-93), Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders (1994-96), San Francisco 49ers (1997-98), Miami Dolphins (1999), San Diego Chargers (2000)
Career highlights: Two-time Super Bowl champion (1992, 1993), NFL All-Pro (1998), three-time Pro Bowl (1994, 1997, 1998)
Bottom line: Offensive lineman Kevin Gogan's size made him intimidating, at 6-foot-7 and well over 300 pounds. His attitude — his nickname was "Big Nasty" — made him downright terrifying to opponents.
Gogan won two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and 1993, with the latter year seeing him as part of one of the greatest offensive lines of all time.
But all that success did little to temper Gogan's propensity for dirty play, and in 1998, he became the first player ejected from the Pro Bowl since it moved to Hawaii in 1980 after he kicked defensive end Neil Smith in the groin.
18. Bernard Pollard, Defensive Back
Born: Dec. 23, 1984 (Fort Wayne, Indiana)
High school: South Side High School (Fort Wayne, Indiana)
Career: 9 seasons (2006-14)
Teams: Kansas City Chiefs (2006-08), Houston Texans (2009-10), Baltimore Ravens (2011-12), Tennessee Titans (2013-14)
Career highlights: Super Bowl champion (2012), PFWA All-Rookie Team (2006)
Bottom line: Say whatever you want about Bernard Pollard — he almost derailed the career of one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history with an indefensible play.
On no level of football would it be OK for a safety on a blitz to come in low to hit the quarterback, which is what Pollard did in 2008 when he destroyed New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's knee.
While one play doesn't make you a dirty player, Pollard continued to make dirty plays throughout his career, including a helmet-to-helmet hit on New England running back Stevan Ridley that knocked him unconscious, and Pollard racked up fines and penalties with four different teams over nine seasons.
17. Warren Sapp, Defensive Tackle
Born: Dec. 19, 1972 (Plymouth, Florida)
High school: Apopka High School (Apopka, Florida)
Career: 13 seasons (1995-2007)
Teams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1995-2003), Oakland Raiders (2004-07)
Career highlights: Super Bowl champion (2002), NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1999), six-time NFL All-Pro (1997-2002), seven-time Pro Bowl (1997-2003), PFWA All-Rookie Team (1995), NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
Bottom line: Warren Sapp is still thought of as one of the greatest interior defensive linemen of all time. There's very little he didn't accomplish in his career, including winning a Super Bowl and being named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1999.
The Hall of Famer was something else as well. He was one of the dirtiest players in NFL history and no play defines that more than his blindside hit on Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Chad Clifton.
Following an interception, Clifton was jogging away from the play when Sapp hit him. Clifton was hospitalized for one week and wasn't able to walk unaided for five weeks.
16. Dick 'Night Train' Lane, Defensive Back
Born: April 16, 1928 (Austin, Texas)
Died: Jan. 29, 2002 (age 74, Austin, Texas)
High School: Anderson High School (Austin, Texas)
College: Scottsbluff Junior College
Career: 14 seasons (1952-65)
Teams: Los Angeles Rams (1952-53), Chicago Cardinals (1954-59), Detroit Lions (1960-65)
Career highlights: Seven-time All-Pro (1956, 1957, 1959-63), seven-time Pro Bowl (1954-56, 1958, 1960-62), NFL 100th Anniversary Team
Bottom Line: Night Train Lane's life was one of the great stories in not only NFL history, but all of North American pro sports. Abandoned in a dumpster at three months old, Lane only played one season of college football at a junior college in Nebraska and served four years in the military before he landed a tryout with the Los Angeles Rams and made the team in 1952.
Lane set the NFL single-season interceptions record as a rookie, was a seven-time All-Pro and married jazz singer Dinah Washington in 1963.
He also was a dirty player. The NFL literally created a rule for him after Lane began grabbing players by their facemasks to take them down. In his defense, he played in the first era of facemasks. But still.
15. Johnny Sample, Defensive Back
Born: June 15, 1937 (Cape Charles, Virginia)
Died: April 26, 2005 (age 68, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
High school: Overbrook High School (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
College: Maryland State
Career: 11 seasons (1958-68)
Teams: Baltimore Colts (1958-60), Pittsburgh Steelers (1961-62), Washington Redskins (1963-65), New York Jets (1966-68)
Career highlights: Super Bowl champion (1969), two-time NFL champion (1958, 1959), AFL champion (1968), five-time All-Pro (1960, 1961, 1965, 1966, 1968)
Bottom line: Johnny Sample's career was defined by two of the greatest games in NFL history. Sample, a defensive back, won an NFL championship with the Baltimore Colts over the New York Giants in 1958 in "The Greatest Game Ever Played" and ended his career with the New York Jets, winning a Super Bowl over the Colts in Super Bowl III in one of the greatest upsets in sports history.
How do we know Sample was dirty, other than his opponents saying so? He titled his 1970 autobiography "Confessions of a Dirty Ballplayer." So that kind of gave it away.
Sample, one of the greatest HBCU players of all time, had one of the more interesting post-NFL careers of anyone we've ever come across. He was the No. 1 over-45 men's tennis player in the U.S. for an extended period and became a chair umpire in all four of tennis' Grand Slam events.
14. Dick Butkus, Middle Linebacker
Born: Dec. 9, 1942 (Chicago)
High School: Vocational High School (Chicago)
Career: 9 seasons (1965-73)
Team: Chicago Bears
Career highlights: Eight-time Pro Bowl (1965-72), eight-time All-Pro (1965-72), two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1969, 1970), NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, Pro Football Hall of Fame (1983)
Bottom Line: Only a handful of players can say they truly defined their positions in NFL history. Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus is one of those.
Tales of Butkus' exploits would make you think he played several decades in the NFL, but his career was just nine seasons — eight of which he made the All-Pro team and the Pro Bowl, with back-to-back NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards in 1969 and 1970.
Perhaps the most intimidating human being to ever step on a football field, Butkus makes this list because of one trait opponents seem to unanimously agree on ... dude liked to bite people during games.
13. Steve Wisniewski, Guard
Born: April 7, 1967 (Rutland, Vermont)
High school: Westfield High School (Houston, Texas)
College: Penn State
Career: 13 seasons (1989-2001)
Teams: Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders
Career highlights: Eight-time NFL All-Pro (1990-96, 2000), eight-time Pro Bowl (1990-95, 1997, 2000), PFWA All-Rookie Team (1989), NFL 1990s All-Decade Team
Bottom line: Steve Wisniewski spent the entirety of his career with the Raiders, following the team from Los Angeles to Oakland and earning eight NFL All-Pro nods in the process.
Wisniewski's success came at a price — mainly for his opponents. Wisniewski vehemently denied being a dirty player on the basis that he "didn't even wear jewelry."
But anyone who watched him play saw an offensive lineman who seemed to take out kneecaps and hit players low and from behind more than any almost any player in NFL history.
12. Albert Haynesworth, Defensive Tackle
Born: June 17, 1981 (Hartsville, South Carolina)
High school: Hartsville High School (Hartsville, South Carolina)
Career: 10 seasons (2002-11)
Teams: Tennessee Titans (2002-08), Washington Redskins (2009-10), New England Patriots (2011), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2011)
Career highlights: Two-time NFL All-Pro (2007, 2008), two-time Pro Bowl (2007, 2008)
Bottom line: Tennessee’s Albert Haynesworth earned what was then the longest suspension in NFL history for an on-field incident — five games — after he cleat-stomped Dallas center Andre Gurode’s face during a nationally televised game.
Gurode was severely injured on the play but declined to press charges against Haynesworth, who signed a seven-year, $100 million free-agent deal with the Washington Redskins two years later and is widely considered the biggest free-agent bust in NFL history.
11. Richie Incognito, Guard
Born: July 5, 1983 (Englewood, New Jersey)
High school: Mountain Ridge High School (Glendale, Arizona)
Career: 17 seasons (2005-21)
Teams: St. Louis Rams (2005-09), Buffalo Bills (2009, 2015-17), Miami Dolphins (2010-13), Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders (2019-21)
Career highlights: Four-time Pro Bowl (2012, 2015-17)
Bottom line: Signs of trouble with Richie Incognito began when he was at the University of Nebraska, where he had at least a half-dozen violent incidents involving his teammates, opponents and an arrest where he was charged with three counts of assault.
NFL teams have been happy to keep him in the fold the last two decades despite the fact he's a proven racist, as evidenced by his treatment of former Miami Dolphins teammate Jonathan Martin and the team's athletic training staff, where he would single out Asians and threaten them bodily harm over the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.
10. Jack Tatum, Safety
Born: Nov. 18, 1948 (Cherryville, North Carolina)
Died: July 27, 2010 (age 61, Oakland, California)
High school: Passaic High School (Passaic, New Jersey)
College: Ohio State
Career: 10 seasons (1971-80)
Teams: Oakland Raiders (1971-79), Houston Oilers (1980)
Career highlights: Super Bowl champion (1976), two-time NFL All-Pro (1974, 1977), three-time Pro Bowl (1973-75)
Bottom line: Jack Tatum was one of the most vicious hitters the NFL has ever seen. That reputation has come to overshadow much of what he accomplished in the game — two national championships at Ohio State and a Super Bowl championship with the Oakland Raiders.
Tatum's career in the NFL is largely defined by one play. On Aug. 12, 1978, Tatum's hit on New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley during an exhibition game rendered Stingley a quadripelegic for the rest of his life. Stingley said Tatum never made an attempt to apologize, outside of a planned television appearance to promote Tatum's autobiography that Stingley canceled when he realized the cause for the meeting.
Tatum died in 2010, at 61 years old.
9. Roy Williams, Defensive Back
Born: Aug. 14, 1980 (Redwood City, California)
High school: Logan High School (Union City, California)
Career: 9 seasons (2002-10)
Teams: Dallas Cowboys (2002-08), Cincinnati Bengals (2009-10)
Career highlights: Five-time Pro Bowl (2003-07), NFL All-Pro (2003)
Bottom line: Roy Williams authored one of the craziest plays you'll ever see in college football when the Oklahoma safety leapt over a Texas offensive lineman to force an interception and seal the win in the 2001 Red River Shootout. It's a play that wouldn't even be legal today, but was awesome back then.
Williams' violent style of play shortened his NFL career — he lasted just nine seasons — but not before he changed the league forever. How'd he do it? Williams, instead of actually learning to tackle, was the master at the horse collar tackle, which was almost singularly outlawed because of how often he used it.
Football fans 30 years and younger should be happy you don't have to watch dudes getting horse collared and their careers ended. Of all the dirty ways to tackle, this was the dirtiest. And Williams was its Mozart.
8. Rodney Harrison, Safety
Born: Dec. 15, 1972 (Markham, Illinois)
High school: Marian Catholic High School (Chicago Heights, Illinois)
College: Western Illinois
Career: 15 seasons (1994-2008)
Teams: San Diego Chargers (1994-2002), New England Patriots (2003-08)
Career highlights: Two-time Super Bowl champion (2003, 2004), three-time NFL All-Pro (1998, 2003, 2004), two-time Pro Bowl (1998, 2001), San Diego Chargers 50th Anniversary Team, New England Patriots 50th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: Rodney Harrison became an NFL star out of Western Illinois University — no easy task. He did so by leaving a battered trail of wide receivers in his wake using some pretty questionable methods.
Harrison became known for his dirty play during the first eight seasons of his career with the San Diego Chargers and cemented that reputation during back-to-back Super Bowl winning seasons with the New England Patriots.
Harrison's go-to move for putting out an opponent was a helmet-to-helmet hit, and he was voted the NFL's dirtiest player by his peers three times in his career.
7. Chuck Cecil, Safety
Born: Nov. 8, 1964 (Red Bluff, California)
High school: Helix High School (La Mesa, California)
Career: 7 seasons (1988-93, 95)
Teams: Green Bay Packers (1988-92), Phoenix Cardinals (1993), Houston Oilers (1995)
Career highlights: Pro Bowl (1992)
Bottom line: In an interesting twist, Chuck Cecil's famous Sports Illustrated cover from 1993 — "Is Chuck Cecil Too Vicious For The NFL?" — was the second time a player from the Cardinals was featured on the SI cover for dirty play, following offensive lineman Conrad Dobler in 1977.
Cecil, the 1987 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year at Arizona, was a safety who played with reckless abandon, and many pictures of him from that era featured him with a bloody nose.
Even in an era where players knew better, Cecil constantly led with his head on tackles and left his feet. Dirty as they come.
6. Charles Martin, Defensive End
Born: Aug. 31, 1959 (Canton, Georgia)
Died: Jan. 23, 2005 (age 45, Houston, Texas)
High school: Cherokee High School (Canton, Georgia)
College: Western Carolina/Livingston
Career: 5 seasons (1984-88)
Teams: Green Bay Packers (1984-87), Houston Oilers (1987), Atlanta Falcons (1988)
Career highlights: None
Bottom line: Charles Martin's NFL career essentially boiled down to one dirty play that became a precedent setter in the league's history.
Playing linebacker for the Green Bay Packers in 1986, Martin body slammed Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon following a play, becoming the first player ejected from an NFL game for an on-field incident outside of a play and the first suspended for one as well when he was sidelined for two games. McMahon, who was trying to lead the Bears to a second straight Super Bowl win, was out for the season following the play.
Martin was much more than that one dirty play, though. He had a history of on-field and off-field violence dating back to high school. He was cut from the Packers for his role in a wild bar fight and famously speared Pittsburgh running back Earnest Jackson while he played for the Houston Oilers in 1987.
5. Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle
Born: Jan. 6, 1987 (Portland, Oregon)
High school: Grant High School (Portland, Oregon)
Career: 12 seasons (2010-21)
Teams: Detroit Lions (2010-14), Miami Dolphins (2015-17), Los Angeles Rams (2018), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2019-21)
Career highlights: Super Bowl champion (2021), five-time NFL All-Pro (2010, 2012-14, 2016), five-time Pro Bowl (2010, 2012-14, 2016), NFL 2010s All-Decade Team, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (2010)
Bottom line: There's an interesting argument to be made about Ndamukong Suh's legacy. Were he not thought of as one of the dirtiest players of all time, would we hear more talk about him being one of the greatest interior defensive linemen of all time?
We won't ever know, thanks to what we saw of Suh on the field, especially early in his career.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, Suh had more personal fouls than any NFL player through his first two seasons and in 2012 was voted the NFL's dirtiest player in an anonymous poll of fellow players.
Suh's go-to move? Stomping on opponents once they were already on the ground. How brave.
4. Hines Ward, Wide Receiver
Born: March 8, 1976 (Seoul, South Korea)
High school: Forest Park High School (Forest Park, Georgia)
Career: 14 seasons (1998-2011)
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers
Career highlights: Two-time Super Bowl champion (2005, 2008), Super Bowl MVP (2006), three-time NFL All-Pro (2002-04), four-time Pro Bowl (2001-04)
Bottom line: People love Hines Ward in Pittsburgh, where he played his entire NFL career, and in Georgia, where he played in high school and in college, at the University of Georgia.
Everywhere else? Not so much. Ward was the king of the cheap shot when it came to crackback blocks — maybe the dirtiest play in all of football.
Ward's ferocity in hitting players from the blind side resulted in the play being banned after he broke Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers' jaw with such a block in 2008.
3. Bill Romanowski, Linebacker
Born: April 2, 1966 (Rockville, Connecticut)
High school: Rockville High School (Vernon, Connecticut)
College: Boston College
Career: 16 seasons (1988-2003)
Teams: San Francisco 49ers (1988-93), Philadelphia Eagles (1994-95), Denver Broncos (1996-2001), Oakland Raiders (2002-03)
Career highlights: Four-time Super Bowl champion (1988, 1989, 1997, 1998), two-time Pro Bowl (1996, 1998), PFWA All-Rookie Team (1988)
Bottom line: There's a laundry list of incidents with opponents we can point to that underline what a vile human being Bill Romanowski is — most notably spitting in the face of wide receiver J.J. Stokes and breaking Kerry Collins' jaw with an illegal hit — but it's an incident with one of his teammates that truly reveals his character.
In 2003, Romanowski pulled off the helmet of Oakland Raiders backup tight end Marcus Williams during a scrimmage and sucker-punched him, shattering his eye socket. The injury cost Williams his football career, and it cost Romanowski $340,000 when a jury awarded that to Williams after he sued for lost wages and medical expenses.
2. Vontaze Burfict, Linebacker
Born: Sept. 24, 1990 (Los Angeles, California)
High school: Centennial High School (Corona, California)
College: Arizona State
Career: 8 seasons (2012-19)
Teams: Cincinnati Bengals (2012-18), Oakland Raiders (2019)
Career highlights: NFL All-Pro (2013), Pro Bowl (2013)
Bottom line: Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s history of illegal hits dates back to his high school days in Corona, California.
What’s the evidence he's one of the dirtiest players in NFL history? In eight seasons, Burfict was suspended for a total of 19 games for illegal hits, plus another four games for using performance-enhancing drugs.
In Week 4 of the 2019 NFL season, Burfict received one of the longest suspensions in NFL history — 12 games — for "repeated violations of unnecessary roughness rules."
1. Conrad Dobler, Guard
Born: Oct. 1, 1950 (Chicago, Illinois)
High school: Twentynine Palms High School (Twentynine Palms, California)
Career: 10 seasons (1972-81)
Teams: St. Louis Cardinals (1972-77), New Orleans Saints (1978-79), Buffalo Bills (1980-81)
Career highlights: Three-time Pro Bowl (1975-77)
Bottom line: Recency bias puts former NFL linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the top spot as the dirtiest player in NFL history. True NFL fans and historians understand that only Conrad Dobler can claim that status.
Dobler, an offensive lineman, was known for trying to injure opposing players and featured on a Sports Illustrated cover in 1977 as the NFL's dirtiest player — he famously punched Mean Joe Greene, kicked Merlin Olsen in the head and spit on injured Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Bill Bergey after he'd suffered a career-ending injury.
They don't make football players — or humans — meaner than Dobler.