- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NASHVILLE, TENN. (AP) - Cortland Finnegan is polite, rarely forgetting to say “Thank you” and “Yes, ma’am.” He works hard for charity, having pushed a high school cancer patient’s wheelchair five miles during a Thanksgiving road race before heading to practice.

On the field, the Tennessee Titans cornerback now has a slightly different reputation, thanks to his battle royale with Houston receiver Andre Johnson.

Finnegan said Wednesday he’s appalled at how he’s been perceived since Sunday’s brawl that brought each $25,000 fines apiece.

“For me not to take any swings but still play feisty and physical, I’m almost at a loss. I’m still playing football. If he never retaliates, then we’re never having this conversation. It takes someone to retaliate, and it’s the golden boy so now I’m the bad guy,” Finnegan said.

Earlier this year, Finnegan said he wanted to be known as the dirtiest player in the NFL. Following a fight that made all the highlight reels, he claims he was only joking.

Deion Sanders used his incredible speed to shut down NFL receivers. Ronnie Lott did it with hard hits. The undersized Finnegan is a talker who never stops, trying to emulate the play of Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis.

“Man, he plays so passionately and so much love for the game, I’ve always wanted to be Ray Lewis,” Finnegan said.

Teammates love him. Receivers who play against him regularly agree he’s feisty, not dirty.

One thing’s for sure: The never-quit, physical style that badgered Johnson into yanking Finnegan’s helmet off and wailing away at him with his fist has served him well.

From a 150-pound kid coming out of high school in Milton, Fla., to Samford to finally becoming an NFL starter despite a late-round draft pick, Finnegan’s attitude has been the same.

That chip on his shoulder comes from being the self-described, “Little fella just trying to fight my whole life.”

So Finnegan constantly runs at receivers, chasing down the ball to compensate for his size. He tends to get a little too revved up at times.

Back in 2008, linebacker Keith Bulluck tried to calm down his teammate after two personal foul penalties on the same drive in Baltimore. Finnegan wasn’t in the mood to listen to anybody, so Bulluck wound up shoving the cornerback.

This season alone, Finnegan had been fined three times before Sunday’s brawl. He said Wednesday one had been dropped with another reduced, and he plans to appeal this latest fine.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who played defensive back himself in the NFL, said Finnegan has pushed the limits a little a couple of times. He doesn’t see his top cornerback as an instigator.

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