- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

Say this much for Albert Haynesworth: The man knows how to apologize. When he does the flamenco on an opponent’s face — and inflicts 30 stitches’ worth of damage — he doesn’t blame it on a drinking problem or some pederastic Catholic priest.

Instead he says, “What I did out there was disgusting. … I feel like I disgraced the game, disgraced by team and disgraced my last name.”

Sure beats: “I’ll have to look at the film.”

Haynesworth, the Tennessee Titans’ monstrous — in more ways than one — defensive tackle, reportedly expressed the same sentiments to the player he maimed, Cowboys center Andre Gurode. It was a while, though, before he could reach him on the phone, probably because the line was being tied up by the producers of “Extreme Makeover,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Dr. 90210.”

Haynesworth isn’t even appealing his five-game suspension, a league record for an on-field offense. Too bad he wasn’t thinking as rationally Sunday afternoon, when he kicked Gurode’s helmet off while he was on the ground and then, to add injury to insult, raked a cleat across his forehead. The victim came away with cuts and blurred vision — not to mention a strong basis for a lawsuit.

From all accounts, this wasn’t Zinedine Zidane revisited. That is, Gurode didn’t provoke Haynesworth by saying something untoward about his sister. “We were just out there playing football,” he claimed — when Haynesworth suddenly had a Hulk Hogan Moment. Good thing the officials intervened, before Haynesworth could get Gurode in an airplane pin. Then Andre’s vision would really be blurred.

Even by NFL standards — the “N” standing for the nefarious, the “F” for felonious — Haynesworth’s offense is pretty heinous. Brazen, too. Players usually save the Really Dirty Stuff for the bottom of the pile, where nobody can see. But Albert performed acupuncture on Andre right out in the open.

Not that the behavior was uncharacteristic of him. From the sound of things, Haynesworth has some serious Bill Romanowski tendencies. Early in his career, he kicked a teammate in the chest during practice. Later that season (2003), he was suspended for a game by coach Jeff Fisher after getting in a fight with another teammate during another workout.

This is why you don’t see anybody running to Haynesworth’s defense. Players, former players, his own coach — they’re as appalled as fans are. Poor Roger Goodell. His predecessor as NFL commissioner, Paul Tagliabue only had to worry about wardrobe malfunctions. Goodell, barely a month on the job, has had to deal with Haynesworth’s brain malfunction, a far bigger embarrassment to the league.

(After all, TV will be running the clip of Albert’s meltdown forever. It won’t be running the clip of Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction forever, though, because Janet will turn 60 in 2026, and it isn’t nice to keep tormenting an old lady like that.)

There just isn’t any precedent for what Haynesworth did. Kyle Turley, then with the Saints, once yanked the helmet off a Jets defender and fired it down the field, but he didn’t do a tap dance on Damien Robinson’s skull afterward.

About the only incident in NFL history that even remotely compares to Haynesworth’s took place 52 years ago. The gist of it: The Baltimore Colts were playing the Los Angeles Rams at the Coliseum late in the season, and the Colts’ Don Joyce and the Rams’ Les Richter — two of the league’s rougher roughnecks — were swapping blows the entire game. Finally, Joyce, a former National Guard boxing champ, pulled Richter’s helmet off and belted him in the face with it. There’s a classic photo of Richter writhing on the ground, hands over his face, while Joyce looks on, Richter’s headgear lying between them.

In “Sundays at 2:00 with the Baltimore Colts,” Vince Bagli’s and Norman L. Macht’s oral history of the franchise, Colts Hall of Famer Jim Parker says, “Don Joyce was a dirty player in practice. Before practice … [h]e’d go in his locker and take a pill of some kind and his eyeballs would get small and get large. I said, ‘That SOB is going crazy.’ Somebody warned me: Don’t take your eyes off him, or he’ll take you out.”

Fifteen stitches were needed to close the wound over Richter’s right eye. But Commissioner Bert Bell didn’t suspend Joyce because, as the Colts’ ‘55 media guide put it, “films of [the] incident proved he wasn’t the aggressor.” Oh, and you’ll love this next note about Joyce in the media guide: “… May turn to pro wrestling in off-season …”

Haynesworth might want to turn to wrestling in the off-season himself. It would be a good place for him to channel his aggression — and Fridge Perry could no doubt use a tag-team partner. Besides, if Albert keeps getting suspended five games at a time, he’s going to need a second career.

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