Well over a year ago, in March 2012 to be exact, the NFL handed down never-before-seen penalties and fines in relation to the bounty program the New Orleans Saints had in place since 2009. Concocted by then-defensive coordinator Greg Williams, the bounty system doled out cash payments to defensive players for big plays, big hits and “kill shots” on opposing offenses.
As many as 27 defensive players were allegedly in on the bounty program, with head coach Sean Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general Manger Mickey Loomis all having knowledge of its existence.
I remember seeing the “Breaking News” ticker scroll across the bottom of my television screen as it relayed information about what was known at the time. I knew that dark days were ahead for the Saints.
My other reaction at the time was indifference. Indifference with a little bit of understanding mixed in. Yes, you read that right. I personally do not care what grown men do with their money, and I don’t care how they motivate themselves. I am interested in results.
That being said, short of shanking each other on the field, intentionally going for player’s knees or otherwise targeting players in such a way that would physically endanger their lives, I really do not care what happens on the football field.
I understand how a bounty system such as the one implemented by Williams in New Orleans would have come about. NFL football — along with other major sports, college included — has long since stopped being a game played for the fun of it, partook for the simple joy playing the game itself.
It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. The stakes are high and the rewards are great. I think many coaches now look at the game how a general would look at a battlefield. During those 60 minutes of play, the other team isn’t just merely your opponent; they are your enemy. Take away either their ability or their will to fight and victory is yours along with the spoils.
I think that some of what Williams said in his pre-game speeches to his players, such as references to “killing the head” of San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore, is vague and ambiguous; nothing more than simple motivational rhetoric. Other references, such as intentionally trying to tear an ACL or targeting players with a past history of concussions are clear and obviously crossed that threshold of acceptable within the game.
That brings up an important question, however. Should a player with a history of concussions even be in the game with what we know about head injuries today? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t; that’s a question better answered by someone other than myself.
This all having been said now, I am glad that Williams is out and Rob Ryan is in. Left to its own devices, who knows how much farther that bounty program would have gone. Perhaps it would have reached a level of pay-for-violence that even I would have been opposed to.
Let us look ahead to happier days instead. Payton is back in command and Drew Brees will be looking to make some noise in the playoffs after having missed them last season. Ryan’s new 3-4 defensive scheme will be, I repeat, will be an improvement over last year’s effort. I can say this with confidence because it will be almost impossible to do worse than the 7,042 yards allowed last year.
So do not hang your heads in sorrow, Saints fans. Hold them high, pump out your chest and look forward to a season of redemption. After all, we fall down only so that we can learn to pick ourselves up again.