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|01-31-2009, 06:06 PM||#1|
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One Way or Another, Arizona’s Darnell Dockett Will Get His Ink
One Way or Another, Arizona’s Darnell Dockett Will Get His Ink
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By JOE LAPOINTE
TAMPA. Fla. — Darnell Dockett of the Arizona Cardinals will play defensive tackle against the Pittsburgh Steelers for three or four hours Sunday, but he has something scheduled for Tuesday that could take more than twice the time.
“He came by and basically set up a 10-hour appointment,” Sage O’Connell, a tattoo artist in Mesa, Ariz., said in a telephone interview. “Darnell knows what he wants, and he’s easy to work with.”
What Dockett craves is a new tattoo to commemorate a victory in Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium. O’Connell has drawn murals on Dockett’s back, legs, neck, chest and arms, but there is still some empty space.
“Put it on the bottom of my feet,” Dockett said. “I’m going to find a spot even if I’ve got to get it on my forehead. If I win the Super Bowl, I will get that tattoo. That’s something to definitely put on your body.”
Dockett has emerged as a compelling but contradictory personality in this year’s title game, a self-proclaimed joker who also speaks with searing sensitivity about serious subjects, like the murder of his mother.
Dockett has fueled Arizona’s defense by playing on the edge between inspirational effort and self-destructive flamboyance. While quarterback Kurt Warner is the team’s personification of Boy Scout virtue, Dockett could be the alter ego. In recent days, Dockett has bared his body and shared his soul.
“I’m fascinated with skulls,” he said, pointing to tattoos. “I’ve got one, two, three, four, five. I’ve got two demons on my chest, both of them coming from flames.”
Dockett and O’Connell say they are most proud of Dockett’s back. It includes a portrait of his mother, murdered by a gunshot to the head. She sold drugs to support three children by three absentee fathers, Dockett said. He discovered her body when he was 13.
“I would give up all this to have my mom back,” said Dockett, 27, a five-year veteran who had 49 tackles and 4 sacks this season. “I’d go back to the streets.”
Paradoxically, her death helped make him an elite athlete. “Crazy as it may sound, whoever killed my mom gave me the biggest blessing,” he said.
Another portrait shows his father, who died of cancer four months after his mother died. “That’s the only funeral I’ve ever been to when I didn’t shed a tear,” Dockett said.
He resented his father, Dockett said, in part because he never called to wish him a happy birthday.
His back also shows a portrait of his grandfather and the skyline of Atlanta, where Dockett grew up. Above the buildings flies a helicopter.
“I used to get chased by the police,” Dockett said. “They used to bring the helicopter out.”
One arm shows a sexy woman he calls his girlfriend, a fictional character. “She’s the only one that I trust,” Dockett said. “She can’t go nowhere. She’s always in my eye distance. I actually designed her face and everything.”
On his right forearm is a poem that Dockett wrote to his uncle, Kevin Dockett, who disciplined and raised him in his teenage years near Washington. It says in part, “When the odds were against me, beside me you stood ... blood is thicker than water.”
Dockett wrote it in college while collecting roadside trash on a work crew in Florida, part of a community-service obligation after he pleaded no contest to the theft of athletic clothing while a student-athlete at Florida State.
T. K. Wetherell, the president of Florida State, also took a tough-love approach to Dockett, scolding him harshly in an office meeting. In college, Wetherell said, Docket experienced “cultural shock” on a campus unlike his previous residences.
“He had a lot of growing up to do,” Wetherell said in a telephone interview. “The university was bigger than one person. He was a small fish in a big pond. He finally got it figured out.”
Some of Dockett’s trouble came on the field. The Florida Gators accused him of intentionally injuring the leg of running back Earnest Graham by twisting it and of trying to step on the hand of quarterback Rex Grossman. Offensive tackle Max Starks was a Gator then and is a Steeler now.
“He’s still the same Darnell Dockett,” Starks said, adding that Dockett would try to intimidate Sunday with “a verbal battle.” Of their college grudge, Starks said: “No comment on that one. Still under review on that one. Still have some feelings about that.”
Antonio Smith, a defensive end for the Cardinals and Dockett’s closest friend, said: “Darnell’s like a firecracker. He starts fights, and I have to end up backing him up. It just turns into like a fun free-for-all.”
During the regular season, when Dockett recovered a fumble for a touchdown, he dropped to the ground and Smith pantomimed giving him cardiopulmonary resuscitation. For that, Dockett was fined $10,000.
In the playoffs, when Smith recovered a fumble for a safety, Dockett climbed on Smith’s back as if riding a bronco in a rodeo. That cost Dockett $20,000. So Dockett was asked his plans for the Super Bowl.
“Oh, I can assure you, if I score a touchdown, I will get a fine,” Dockett said. “I’m definitely going to do something very exciting.”
In the National Football Conference title game victory over Philadelphia, Dockett recovered a loose ball and tried to score a touchdown. It happened on the final play. It would have been safer to just fall down instead of risking another turnover that could have become a touchdown for the Eagles. But Dockett said he wanted to run up the score.
He also said he felt as if his mother’s spirit had tipped the ball to his arms. Later, he gave the ball to his uncle Kevin.
“Very intense and very competitive,” Arizona Coach Ken Whisenhunt said of Dockett’s emotional makeup. “Darnell has done a very good job of being able to rein some of that emotion. What he has done in the past is gotten out of control at times that led to some penalties that were hurtful.”
Dockett started football relatively late. In his first youth league game, he ran the wrong way with a fumble for a safety against his team. When a coach asked him if he knew the three-point stance, Dockett replied, “No, but I can tell you how to steal a Buick Regal.”
Dockett last week said he was disappointed that President Obama was cheering for the Steelers. Dockett said he would celebrate a Super Bowl victory by eating the president’s food in the White House kitchen and getting a tattoo with him.
Dockett then joked — and he was clearly joking — that he would play basketball with Obama and elbow him while going for a rebound so that the president would have to give speeches wearing an eye patch.
One of Dockett’s tattoos shows a clown jumping out of a box. And there are deadly serious ones, too, like the angel looking over his mother. Someone asked Dockett why he mixes seriousness with playfulness in his words and on his skin.
“I am on joke time,” Dockett said. “I am going to have a blast. My pain and my tears are gone. I have shed enough of them. Some people say, ‘You play too much.’ But I say you better enjoy life, you better smile and enjoy this while you can.”
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