FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The big, angry man was willing to try anything, which is what led him here, to a locker on the other side of the room, inquiring with a teammate he'd just recently met. Miami Dolphins offensive guard Richie Incognito's search for answers continued.
"Hey, Rick," said Incognito, cornering Ricky Williams during a day of work in 2010. "Can I ... can you ... can you, like ... teach me how to meditate? Can you ... can you tell me what this is all about?"
Williams, known as a spiritual seeker, obliged. He made a copy of an introductory meditation CD and gave it to Incognito -- the running back remaining, perhaps to this day, unaware of the backstory to that exchange.
Of course, in that respect, Williams wouldn't be alone. Very few know how deep and dark it got for Richie Incognito, a man once voted by his peers as the NFL's dirtiest player, who couldn't manage his temper, who turned to marijuana for comfort, who had no idea how to find balance, on or off the field.
"I got the CD," said Incognito, a 313-pound veteran now entering his ninth NFL season. "I went home. I popped it in. And I'm sitting there and, you know, I'm going through these breathing exercises. I'm doing these chants. And I'm thinking to myself, I look like a fruit loop. You know, I've lost it!"
The truth is, after a decade of anger management issues and substance abuse nearly cost him his job in football, Incognito was actually on his way to finding it.
On the Sunday morning after Miami’s recent preseason game against the Houston Texans, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin pulled his players into the team's main auditorium and started a meeting by projecting a play onto the big screen in the front of the room.
The play has since drawn national headlines: Texans defensive end Antonio Smith, apparently antagonized by Incognito’s relentless needling, ripped off Incognito’s helmet and swung it at his head.
“This is how you respond to this situation,” said Philbin, rewinding and replaying the moment over and over to show Incognito’s passive reaction. “We have to keep our composure and not retaliate.”
Multiple players say Philbin was fired up during that meeting, proud of Incognito and center Mike Pouncey for walking away from a provocative situation that later resulted in a three-game suspension for Smith.
In a watershed sense, this was validation of Incognito’s turnaround: He walked away from something that, in the past, would have surely sucked him in. But has he truly changed? If so, how does Incognito explain a report last week citing anonymous sources that said he punched a bouncer at a South Florida nightclub in June?
“I don’t want to get into details,” Incognito said. “But I’ll set the record straight -- I didn’t punch anyone.”
Instead, three people who witnessed the encounter told NFL Media that Incognito was trying to defuse a situation at Liv nightclub after attending a Miami Heat playoff game; that he was actually the one who called 911 to report an assault; and that he absolutely did not hit anyone.
Here’s the thing about Incognito: He is not an angel, nor does he claim to be. Yet compared to where Incognito's wild life has taken him in the past, the current path is far less twisted than ever before.