On Saturday night, in a fit of preseason deja vu rage against the Miami Dolphins, Antonio Smith retaliated to a Richie Incognito instigation with an act that will see Smith punished and vilified around the league. Somehow, Incognito will manage to walk away scot-free.
Hell, in this case, with national media exercising the most selective evidence and slanting the story heavily against Smith, Incognito practically came away as a sympathetic figure.
And that's pretty ridiculous.
In case you missed it, in the first quarter of the Texans' 24-17 preseason win over the Dolphins, Dolphins guard Richie Incognito was doing "Richie Incognito things" to Smith as the Texans' defensive end tried to get after Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, first grabbing Smith's facemask with his left hand and then throwing a right cross with his other hand.
Here are several different video feeds for your viewing pleasure/information. I'll let you judge for yourself:
Vine feed on perpetual loop
Random YouTubes from multiple angles
Fox Football Live feed
If he were playing football in a world with no suspensions or fines, Smith reacted the way every Texan fan hoped he would -- by ripping off Incognito's helmet and taking a quasi-swing at Incognito's exposed face using the headgear as an instrument to inflict some good ol'-fashioned blunt-force trauma.
Unfortunately, Smith plays football not only in a world where suspensions and fines are available on Roger Goodell's discipline menu, but in a league with a commissioner who a) is seemingly hellbent on eradicating any frivolous or non-frivolous contact with the human head and b) is extremely capricious and arbitrary in his doling out of punishment.
And Tuesday afternoon, that punishment came down, as Tania Ganguli of ESPN reported that Smith will be suspended for the remainder of the preseason and for one regular-season game. It is also expected that Smith will be fined for the incident.
I'm guessing Prior history did not do Smith any favors either, as he was subject to an $11,000 fine less than a year ago (that after appealing it down from an original amount of $21,000) after "kicking Incognito in the head." Focus on the outskirts of this video to see that play:
So, much like Uncle Leo, Smith has "priors." (But it was a crime of passion!) Make no mistake, Antonio Smith has to exercise better judgment, especially if all he has to do is make it through a dozen or so plays in a preseason game without trying to illegally maim Incognito. He deserves to be suspended.
My frustration is with Incognito, and the coverage of these stories, both the 2012 kick and the 2013 helmet swing, where Antonio Smith is made out by the national media to be the only villain both times, the monster heel who kicks and swings helmets at poor little Richie Incognito.
Go watch the Fox video again; there's nary a mention of Incognito committing multiple hands-to-the-face penalties right in front of an official.
The fact of the matter is as follows:
1. Richie Incognito is generally considered one of the dirtiest players in the league. In fact, in a poll of his peers last season, Incognito was named the second dirtiest player in the league, with his 19 votes putting him solidly ahead of Cortland Finnegan (14 votes) and still a ways to go to catch up to Ndamukong Suh (32 votes).
Texan fans are familiar with both of those guys, right?
Vince McMahon, if you're reading this, go ahead and book a six-man tag for Wrestlemania: Matt Schaub, Antonio Smith and Andre Johnson against Ndamukong Suh, Richie Incognito and Cortland Finnegan. Thank me later.
2. Incognito was also the 2012 winner of the "Good Guy Award," an award given out to the player in each NFL city who is most helpful to the media. My point in bringing this up: Incognito is no dummy on how to play the "court of public opinion." If the media likes you, human nature is to convey "benefit of the doubt" privileges. Hence, Antonio Smith...BAD. Richie Incognito...VICTIM.
3. Along those lines, what rarely if ever gets mentioned in recapping both of Smith's transgressions is that, in the first one, his ankle was being twisted by Incognito away from the play, and in the second one, he took a one-two combo to the chin that should've drawn a flag. This doesn't include the likelihood that there were other borderline-dirty plays from Incognito to which Smith did not retaliate prior to there. (I sure hope my South Florida media brethren don't mind me questioning the tactics of their resident "Good Guy.")
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Also, consider that Incognito and Smith have been bumping heads much longer than the two incidents outlined herein. Incognito and Smith were in the NFC West together for four seasons (Incognito with the Rams, Smith with the Cardinals), and before that, they were both part of the Big 12 for multiple seasons at Nebraska and Oklahoma State, respectively. Point being, this is a feud with deep roots, and yet somehow Antonio Smith still manages to get baited in, like the naive babyface getting lured into the same beatdown on Monday Night RAW every week by the nefarious heel.
What Antonio Smith did on Saturday night cannot be excused, and the commissioner made sure that it wasn't. Smith's temper has now put his team in harm's way, as they'll have to go on the road in the opener without one of their key players.
But when will the rest of the world wake up to what an asshole Richie Incognito is?
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.