Suh takes his place among notorious Detroit athletes

In 2010, Ndamukong Suh was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. He’s had a series of ugly incidents since then, stemming from his dirty play on the gridiron.

In his short NFL career, Detroit Lions’ defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh has earned a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in football.

Is it deserved? Probably.

All you have to do is look at the video from the 2011 Thanksgiving Day game which shows Suh stomping on Green Bay’s Evan Dietrich-Smith to see how undisciplined the young Lion defensive tackle is. The aftermath of that incident, which resulted in a two-game suspension, ratcheted up the rhetoric that Suh is the dirtiest player of this generation. It was the fifth time in his two-year career that Suh had been disciplined for his aggressive play on the field.

What did Suh do to honor the anniversary of that ugly incident? This past Thursday, again on Thanksgiving, Suh allegedly kicked Houston quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin as he Detroit lineman fell to the ground. No word yet on a suspension, but given his history of transgressions, it wouldn’t be surprising is Suh is fined and/or suspended again.

“Suh’s not dirty, he’s filthy,” said former NFL referee Mike Periria, “This guy has a history – an ugly one at that.”

Given the gravity of his offenses, Suh will probably never shake his reputation as a dirty player. No amount of good deeds will erase his nasty plays. Don’t expect any humanitarian awards to come his way any time soon, either.

But Suh isn’t the only Detroit athlete to get a reputation as a dirty player, in fact in some ways Detroit can lay claim to some of the meanest and nastiest athletes in sports history. Here’s a quick look at a few.

Ty Cobb
Ask a sports fan to name a dirty player in any sport, and invariably the name of Ty Cobb will crop up. It’s both fair and unfair: Cobb played the game in an aggressive manner that at times led to mayhem on the diamond, but he also played in an era where “dirty” play was the norm. Back in the Deadball Era, ballplayers bunted and spiked and ran over each other on a regular basis. Players climbed into the stands and fought fans, dodged bottles thrown from those same fans, and fought umpires and enemy players under the stands. It was a different time. Cobb was the greatest player of that “wild west” era of baseball, and he utilized the cunning and dirty tactics as well as anyone else. For the record, he never sharpened his spikes – that’s a neat story that only cropped up years after his career was over and was spread by a sportswriter.

Gordie Howe
Like Cobb, Howe was the best player of his generation (maybe of all-time), and though he had tremendous skill on the ice and in handling the puck, he was also very capable at playing rough. He earned a reputation for throwing elbows, slamming his upper body into opposing players, and even dropping the gloves when he needed to. “Despite an even temperament, and a real distaste for combat, there is a part of Howe that is calculatingly and primitively savage,” Mark Kram wrote in Sports Illustrated in 1964.

Dick “Night Train” Lane
If you were a wide receiver and you were going across the middle against the Detroit Lions in the 1960s, you made sure you knew where Lane was. The Lions’ cornerback was known for his ferocious hits and terrifying takedowns. In his era it was legal to tackle a player using almost any method possible. Lane would granb receivers around the neck and head and twist them and throw them to the turf. It became known as the “Night Train Necktie.”

Bill Laimbeer
Probably the most hated man in the NBA during his career, Laimbeer never met a boo he didn’t like. The Pistons’ big man seemed to revel in the role as Darth Vader. He had no problem doing all of the firty work: rebounding, playing defense, taking charges, guarding the biggest players on the other team, and throwing elbows and hips when he needed to. He wasn’t above shoving and kicking either. His list of fights is lengthy, and his opponents include Robert Parish, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and Michael Jordan (who once threw a punch at him). Laimbeer almost always came out on the losing end, but he won because he succeeded in getting under the skin and inside the brains of his opponents. On the infamous “Bad Boys” that included other “dirty” players Dennis Rodman, Rick Mahorn, and Isiah Thomas, Laimbeer was the enforcer.

Bob Probert
A rough guy off the ice, Probert was downright dangerous on it. He made a career out of being a fighter in the NHL. He had a series of fights with Tie Domi, Wendel Clark, and famous enforcer Stu Grimson. Probert once sucker punched Buffalo’s Kevin Maguire with such force that Maguire’s play was affected for weeks.

Dennis Rodman
Though he was most commonly known as “The Worm,” Rodman could have easily been called “Dennis The Menace.” He was a pest who poked, prodded, agitated, and pestered opponents until they grew so frustrated that they snapped. Rodman wasn’t always blatantly dirty (though he was known to push, shove, trip, and elbow), but he was an “in-your-face” presence that rankled Detroit’s opponents. he typically drew the assignment of defending the highest scorer on the other team. Later, when he played for the Chicago Bulls. Rodman was the team enforcer, charged with protecting Jordan and Scottie Pippen.


One reply on “Suh takes his place among notorious Detroit athletes

  • David Selma

    Mr. Holmes,
    I was very interested by this blog post and your thoughts on a player like Ndamukong Suh. It comes to no surprise that Suh is a force on the football field and his passion of the game often results in him being way too aggressive. Even though aggression is part of football his decisions sometimes raise questions from players, coaches, and fans of the NFL. I guarantee his presence on field is felt and has many quarterbacks on their toes whenever they play the Detroit Lions. But is his style of play good for the game of football? I feel like Suh has taken hard/late hits to another level since his arrival in the NFL. Many fans which include current players at the high school and collegiate level may find the way he play completely acceptable. Many players may emulate his style of play and result in injuries that parents are not ready to see at the high school or collegiate level.
    You point out “Suh isn’t the only Detroit athlete to get a reputation as a dirty player, in fact in some ways Detroit can lay claim to some of the meanest and nastiest athletes in sports history” and stated Bill Laimbeer as a physical player during his time in the NBA. So this may be just a strategy across all sports and not just the NFL for players to have a mental advantage over its opposition. I know there are many instances where coaches appreciate hard hitting as a way to play football, but the “extra” that Suh brings to the game may become a problem in the future. The late hits, stomping on players is not a great strategy of Suh to intimidate opponents it’s a way to show that he is the bully of the League and this will continue to add to his reputation as the dirtiest player in the NFL.

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