ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Much like the myriad tattoos on his muscular frame, Richie Incognito believes his reputation for being the NFL’s most notorious bully of his generation might be permanent.
“You know, I really can’t call it,” Incognito said. “The ‘Monday Night Football’ guys will probably be bringing it up five years from now. We’ll see.”
It was no surprise to the Bills starting left guard that his role in the Dolphins bullying scandal of 2013 was a prominent topic of discussion this week as Buffalo (1-1) prepares to travel to Miami (1-1) on Sunday.
For Incognito, it will be the first time he’ll step foot on the Sun Life Stadium turf since facing Cincinnati on Oct. 31, 2013. Days later, Incognito was suspended for harassing fellow offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, who had abruptly left the team. Incognito’s career was uncertain.
Though Incognito’s suspension was lifted following the season, he spent the next 15 months out of football before getting an opportunity to restart his career with the Bills in February.
“I have no idea what reception to expect,” Incognito said, noting he remains close with several former teammates and members of the Dolphins organization. “I’m amped up for every single game. This one just has a little more meaning. There are obviously bigger things at play here.”
Incognito steered away from the touchiest subjects of the scandal. He politely declined to say whether he was treated fairly. And Miami reporters were denied requests to have Incognito take part in a conference call.
Incognito said he’s grown from what happened.
“I’ve been through a lot since I’ve been down there. And there’s been a lot of time taken for personal growth and maturation,” he said.
“Just kind of figuring out who I am and what I wanted out of my career and what I wanted out of my life,” Incognito added. “I’ve definitely made some big improvements ... and just really thankful for the opportunity to be playing again.”
The same cannot be said for Martin, who spent last season playing for San Francisco. Martin signed with Carolina this offseason before a back injury led him to retire rather than risk permanent damage.
He remains upset over what happened.
In a message posted on his Facebook page last month, Martin referred to the Dolphins locker room situation with a profane synonym for “lousy.” He added he abused alcohol and used marijuana in an attempt to fit in.
Incognito has become a welcome fit in Buffalo, earning the support of his new and some former teammates.
They include newly signed Bills tight end Charles Clay, who spent his first two-plus seasons playing with Incognito in Miami.
“A lot of people formed judgments without knowing the guy,” Clay said. “But you ask anybody in this locker room if they’ve had any problems, and they’ll tell you the same thing: He’s a great guy and they love having him as a teammate.”
Clay says like a strong leader, Incognito doesn’t take the criticism to heart.
Dolphins center Mike Pouncey has stayed in touch with Incognito, and wished his former teammate “nothing but the best.”
“He’s playing good football right now,” said Pouncey, who was also implicated in bullying Martin. “I can’t wait to see him. I miss him a lot.”
A one-time Pro Bowl guard, Incognito has barely lost a step. He won a starting job with Buffalo.
“He’s handled his business,” said Bills center Eric Wood said, who believes Incognito got a bad rap in Miami. “I know he doesn’t want it brought up a whole lot this week, and I don’t want to be the focal point of whatever. But I’m in Richie’s corner.”