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BUFFALO, N.Y. — He's not in hiding anymore. Richie Incognito doesn't barricade himself from the press. The address, four-digit code to enter his apartment building and room number are all texted without hesitation.
Knocks on the door elicit a loud "Come in!" and, hey, there's Richie Incognito spread like a starfish on one table with teammate Jordan Mills on another. The two Bills linemen are getting massages.
"Welcome to the Zen Den," Incognito says.
He lives in shocking simplicity. On his kitchen countertop, there's only a Keurig 2.0 coffeemaker, George Foreman grill and— his pride 'n' joy—a first-place bocce trophy from a tournament at Ilio DiPaolo's Restaurant. (At one point, he stands up, tucks his feet together in a stance and demonstrates his majestic overhand-gripped, back-spinning release.)
There's no weed, no booze on the dining room table. Only a mountain of vitamins to keep his 33-year-old body tuned.
Comedy Central hums in the background. A copy of the Jim Kelly book, Kelly Tough, rests on a coffee table. Brick interior, wooden beams and exposed piping give the "den" a rustic ambience.
Incognito struts into the kitchen as one of the physical therapists is caught glaring at, what she calls, his "beautiful face."
"That's an insult to beautiful, isn't it?" Mills snipes.
"Wait," says Incognito, motors churning on an insult, "what did you just say?"
I cut in to tell Incognito his face wouldn't be so beautiful if ex-Texan Antonio Smith would've connected and drilled the ex-Dolphin in the face with the guard's own helmet.
"It would not be beautiful. I would look like Jordan."
"Hey, I'm married now! Don't need to worry about that."
With that zinger, Mills exits and Incognito sprawls back on the table to get his foot and ankle worked on.
Richie Incognito in the Zen Den (Tyler Dunne).
Incognito cozies his head into a pillow, clasps his hands over his stomach and, for two hours, seeks the answer to a question no one has: Who in the hell is Richie Incognito? He's so many characters to so many people. A bully. A ticking time bomb. A drunk. A pothead. A Pro Bowler. A leader. The dirtiest player in football. A Donald Trump fan. But add it all up, and who the hell, really, is Richie Incognito?
Truth is, he's still figuring that out himself.
On the cusp of another season, Incognito does his own forensic study into who he was, who he is, who he'll become. The damning details are no secret. As he quips himself, "S--t, my entire life has been publicized. … It's an interesting way to live." But he inches closer to an answer as the conversation winds down at the Zen Den, extending his left forearm to showcase his favorite tattoo. It's a phoenix. This one was inked two weeks before his infamous 2013 tailspin began.
"A phoenix builds its own fire, sets its own demise and re-rises as a new being, new spirit, new beginning. If that ain't me in a nutshell, I don't know what is."
Many folks reading his comments will forever judge him through a bullying prism.
"They see me as a racist bully," he says, "and it ends at that."
His issues, for a decade-plus, have been so raw, so public—the world literally read his text messages—that Incognito lost himself along the way.
The phoenix is being reborn, but into what exactly?
Start in his element: the locker room.