Hit-men for hire

It was a little over two weeks ago that the mainstream football fan’s opinion of the New Orleans Saints received a dramatic overhaul. For the casual observer, this team’s reputation can no longer be solely based on the work that they did to rebuild New Orleans after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, nor will it be based on their 2010 Superbowl win.

What it now will be based on is the bounty program that was allegedly being run by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for the past three years. According to reports, defensive linesmen paid into a pool that targeted players and paid a bounty for tackling or sacking said player hard enough to cause them to leave the game.

Reports claim that as much as US $1,500 was paid for “knock-outs” and US $1,000 for “cart-offs”, with numbers doubling and tripling as the playoffs progressed. It is speculated that during the Saints’ 2010 Superbowl run, the pool was worth as much as US $50,000.

Allegedly, players such as Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning were some of the targets. This was potentially a contributing factor to Saints’ Bobby McCray’s tackling of Warner in a divisional play-off game; a game  that ended up being  the last of Warner’s career. Although Warner has never credited McCray’s tackle for being one of the reasons for his retirement, going so far as to claim that the hit was ”legal,” many speculated that it played a bigger factor in Warner’s retirement than he cares to admit.

In light of recent events, that hit has taken on a completely different meaning than it previously had.

As more and more of this story becomes public, the Saints are seeing their share of apologists who claim that tackling and hard hits are just a part of the violent nature of football. What these defenders fail to see, however, is that there is a difference between hard hits and tackles and headhunting.

Another factor often not taken into consideration is that this scandal keeps growing and, as of yet, there are no boundaries as to how many people have been involved. It is known that both head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis were aware of the program, as both have offered public apologies, but Payton has gone on record saying that owner Tom Benson had nothing to do with it.

It is assumed that anywhere between 22 and 27 of the Saints defenders had participated in the bounty pool. Gregg Williams was head coach or defensive coordinator for three other teams before he joined the Saints. It is unknown how many of his previous teams had the same pool and how many of his former players may have been involved in a similar pool.

This investigation will continue to delve deeper into both the Saints and Williams and it would not be surprising if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell found that more were involved in the bounty pool. With his hard-line stance on player safety, it would not be a complete shock if the fines and suspensions handed out are the stiffest seen during the Goodell’s tenure.