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Redskins' Rocky McIntosh keeps people guessing

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2010; 12:03 AM

On the very first play of the Redskins' Oct. 10 game against the Packers, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers completed an eight-yard pass to Greg Jennings. DeAngelo Hall made the tackle, and Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh suffered the concussion.

McIntosh played the rest of the game, though, not realizing the hit he suffered was that serious. "There was a little bit of dizziness," he explained later. "It's kind of hard to diagnose. There's no machine on the sideline you can just hook up."

The Redskins' fifth-year linebacker couldn't practice with his teammates the next week and had to miss the next game, against the Indianapolis Colts. The whole time, he endured various versions of the same joke: How exactly can you tell if Rocky McIntosh has suffered a concussion?

"You never know," McIntosh says, providing the punch line.

McIntosh is, um, different. It's difficult to get even those who know him best to agree on a description.

"He's real quiet," says his grandmother, Patrice Lattimore.

"He's just a crazy individual," says his friend Tavares Gooden, a former college teammate. "He's a ball of fire. He's always the life of the party."

"He's real shy," says Tampa Bay tight end Kellen Winslow, who also played with McIntosh at the University of Miami. "It takes a while for him to open up to people."

"He tries to act like he's quiet," says fellow Redskins linebacker London Fletcher.

"He's not quiet," says Eric Shuster, a friend. "He's mischievous."

Here's how McIntosh, the most media-shy member of the Redskins, explains it in a lengthy interview: "People never know. That's just the way I like it. Keep people guessing."

The collected evidence provides a scattered portrait of an important and often-overlooked member of the Redskins' defense. Before the concussion, McIntosh was leading the team in tackles. He has a knack for gravitating toward the ball and plays much louder on the field than he speaks off it. For four quarters each Sunday, he's a prototypical University of Miami linebacker - with all the good and bad that implies.

"I love to talk trash. I'm dirty sometimes. We play at a high level, and we always want to win," he says of Miami products. "I'm a little bit different than some of the other guys maybe. But on the field, I am the 'U.' "

And who is McIntosh away from the field? That's not an easy question to answer.

Joker

The McIntosh anecdotes grow like a snowball careening down a ski slope. He once tied up a Redskins public relations intern and shut him in an office. Checking into the hotel in St. Louis last month, McIntosh noticed the concierge was swamped. So he hopped behind the desk and began answering the phones. He decorates the office of Redskins' employees with Post-it notes, rearranges office decorations and empties the recycle bin atop desks.

Arriving in Philadelphia earlier this month, he quickly procured Shuster's room key and deposited it at the bottom of the lobby fish aquarium.

"All of a sudden, there's security, and they think I'm going after their fish," Shuster said. "I just wanted my room key.

"There is a side to Rocky that is like a 5-year-old," he added. "And I mean that in a good way."

But there's another side, too. Shuster is the director of strategic partnerships for Comcast SportsNet and serves as the station's liaison with many of the city's top sports personalities. He works closely with everyone from the Capitals' Bruce Boudreau to the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman, and says McIntosh is among the most intelligent athletes he's met.

"But he doesn't want people to know how smart he is," he said. "He loves to fly under the radar. He likes it when people have no expectations of him."

McIntosh left Miami with degrees in criminology and English. He was just a few credits short of a third degree in African-American studies.

"I had to get as much as I could out of there because they were going to get as much as they could out of me," McIntosh said.

In college, he interned for two summers at a prominent Miami law office. On the Wonderlic Personnel Test, an intelligence assessment given each year to NFL prospects, he scored a 29, a number usually reserved for quarterbacks and offensive tackles.

Even after entering the league, he's kept his nose in the books. McIntosh has completed two sessions of classes at the Wharton business school at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Business School in an NFL-sponsored program.

Yet, he mumbles his way through conversations, leaving friends unintelligible voice mail messages and causing coaches, at times, to pull their hair out. At Miami, Coach Randy Shannon, who was defensive coordinator at the time, would routinely ask questions of McIntosh, who was usually called by his birth name, Roger, at the time. Shannon knew what answer to expect - or not expect.

"Coach Shannon would be like, 'Roger, what do we need to do on this play?' And he just wouldn't say anything," says Gooden, now a linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens. "Coach Shannon would have to scream to get him to say just a word or two. But he knew that Rocky was going to come to play."

A disciplined child

Family members all seem to recall the one time McIntosh got out of line. Only in the first or second grade, he was acting up. A teacher called home, and Roger McIntosh Sr., asked her not to stop his son. He wanted to see for himself.

So Roger Sr. drove straight to the school and peeked in a window to see a young McIntosh running through the classroom and ignoring the teacher.

"He looked up and saw me, and his eyes got big," says Roger Sr., a career military man. "I fingered him to come meet me at the door. 'If I ever walk up here and see you acting that way again . . .' I let him know what was acceptable behavior. And that's all it took. From that point on, he was an A student."

McIntosh was born in Roosevelt, N.Y., on Long Island. Even as an infant and a toddler, he was quiet and content.

"He's like his mother," says Lattimore, McIntosh's grandmother. "He could be in the same room with you, and you wouldn't know it."

His father oversaw dining operations in the Army, and the family bounced around: from New York to Fort Lewis, Wash., to Fort Campbell, Ky. Surrounded by family, no matter the stop, McIntosh and his two brothers had a no-nonsense upbringing.

"He was never a problem," says his mother, Darcia. "He was a disciplined boy. You just have to tell him one time. Even with grades. If they dipped, you say something and he brought them right up."

McIntosh didn't play football, but he watched his father's games on the base. He usually stayed late to watch the other teams play, too. Finally in high school, he tried out for the team, playing running back and linebacker.

"He did exactly what the coaches asked him, regardless of what that was," said Joe Montgomery, McIntosh's coach at Gaffney (S.C.) High. "Everything was 'Yes, sir or no, sir.' It's because of his military family background. You can always tell the kids whose parents were in the military and raised their kids in an environment with strict discipline. He was a bit more worldly, too. You could tell he'd been exposed to different things and different people."

Roger Sr. did a hardship tour in South Korea during McIntosh's junior year. He had VHS tapes of his son's games shipped to him, and the talented McIntosh seemed to jump off the television screen. Upon Roger Sr.'s return, he was assigned to Fort Hood in Texas, but McIntosh stayed in Gaffney and lived with his grandmother for his senior year in school.

By that time, college coaches had taken notice. Though McIntosh orally committed to Clemson, a trip to Miami and South Beach hooked him.

'I'm an intern'

The concussion kept McIntosh out of the Redskins' lineup in Week 6, snapping a string of 34 straight starts. Naturally, reporters in the locker room wanted to interview him.

"How are you doing?" a reporter asked.

Brandishing a microphone of his own, McIntosh responded, "How are you doing?" Reporters kept prodding. "I don't talk," McIntosh said, laughing and walking out of the locker room. "I'm an intern. I'm an intern."

As much as he tries to avoid the media - he once switched jerseys with a teammate, hoping reporters wouldn't notice - McIntosh keeps gravitating toward the communications staff's corner of Redskins Park.

"I have a part-time job here in the media department," he notes. He even took over an empty desk one day in the spring of 2009. During training camp a year later, Matt Taylor, the team's media relations assistant, wasn't in his office one day, so McIntosh began answering Taylor's phone. The linebacker recalls one call about rhabdomyolysis, the condition that briefly ailed defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth during training camp.

"The lady was saying, 'That's real, that's real. I had it, my grandma had it,' " McIntosh recalled. "She was just going on and on."

When the Redskins made McIntosh a second-round pick in 2006, there were big expectations. The Redskins had just lost LaVar Arrington in free agency and were in need of a starting outside linebacker. But that rookie season, McIntosh contributed mostly on special teams until the final two games of the season. Adjusting to the NFL, he was quiet off the field, as well.

"I was like everybody else. I thought, 'This guy never says a word,' " says Kirk Olivadotti, the Redskins' assistant coach. "I don't think I actually had a conversation with him for a full year."

"But if anyone says Rocky has no personality, they're wrong. Rocky has personality. He might not talk much but once he gets comfortable, he actually won't shut up."

Navigating two worlds

McIntosh navigates seamlessly between different worlds. His friend, Peter Kim, remembers a time he and his wife were picked up in a limo, with McIntosh reading the newspaper in the back. The evening was filled with adult conversation and good food.

Kim also recalls his son's 14th birthday.

"It was a paintball party," says Kim, a local business owner. "And Rocky jumped out of his truck and he was decked out like he was special forces. So we had a bunch of teens and then there's Rocky there with his muscles bulging and paint and the whole outfit. Everyone else was a foot shorter than he was."

McIntosh and his wife, Alessia, have two children of their own. They share the toys, video games and model rockets. "I have to play with everything first before they can have it," McIntosh says. "They get the hand-me-downs after I use them."

Teammates and coaches praise McIntosh for being able to put aside the laughs when it's time to put on the pads. He knows as well as anyone in the locker room, though, that football is also a business.

McIntosh was slated to become a free agent after the 2009 season, but because the players and owners couldn't work out a new collective bargaining agreement, McIntosh fell into a class of restricted free agents, which essentially made him untouchable for other teams. When the Redskins offered him a one-year tender rather than a multiyear contract extension, he uncharacteristically went public with his frustrations.

"They have a certain way of doing their thing. Mike [Shanahan] and Bruce [Allen, general manager], that's the way they wanted to do things," he says now. "I can't force anything on them. I can definitely tell them how I feel. And we did. We had a couple of meetings, and I told them how I felt behind closed doors.

"But all of that is over with. There comes a point in time where you have to focus and get ready for football."

McIntosh finished last season fourth on the team with 64 unassisted tackles and second with a pair of interceptions. This season, despite missing the Colts' game, McIntosh is third on the team with 66 tackles, according to the team's numbers, 29 of them unassisted.

He says he's not focused on free agency and feels he's already shown the team's new coaching staff what he adds to the defense. "The camera doesn't lie. Film doesn't lie," he says. "Everyone's seen what I can do."

He's quietly having another strong season, again doing things on and off the field that garner little attention. Last week, in fact, he sat in front of a video camera, wearing a black T-shirt and jeans for a spot promoting, of all things, a financial planning seminar.

"Hi, I'm Rocky McIntosh from the Washington Redskins," he said. "Whether it's buying a home or saving for retirement, we can all use professional - ARGHHH!"

Take two. "A little more smile, too," said the cameraman. But McIntosh messed up the line again. And again.

"Whether it's buying a home or saving for retirement, we can all use perma-, I mean, profession-"

He burst into a quick fit of laughter. "It's not that hard," he said.

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