Have you ever found yourself sitting around, lamenting about the good old days, when bounties were prevalent and harsh justice was being served? Well, perhaps now would be a good time to get that bowler hat out of storage. If you missed it, last week brought some degree of closure to a story that was the pigskin equivalent of “Unforgiven.” The Duke of Death purportedly was played by a guy who spells the name Greg with an extra ‘g’.
The disclosure of the Saints’ tomfoolery involving paying players bonuses to harm opposing players could have easily been filed under the name “No Country for Old Men” since it was revealed that the system was put into place into 2009 around the time when the Saints were steamrolling veteran quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Brett Favre in the playoffs, forcing them into premature NFL-AARP status. This policy was in place for at least three seasons. If nothing else, at least I know have a scapegoat for my recent fantasy football failures: The notorious nattering nabobs of negativism Mickey Loomis, Sean Payton, and Gregg Williams should have been fined an extra fifty dollars in a vain attempt for me to recoup my fantasy losses.
The notion of bounties conjures up images of the Old West — the actual West that is, not the one that the NFL conceived of in the 1970s that included New Orleans, Atlanta, and at one point, North Carolina and St. Louis. One week ago, Commissioner Roger Goodell stepped into the role of Wyatt Earp. Nope, there was no OK Corral, but he did play on the Crescent City’s acronym by declaring a hearty “N-O” to the Saints’ shenanigans.
Williams was suspended indefinitely, Payton was told to sit out the 2012 season, in addition to bans for Loomis, and assistant coach Joe Vitt. Also, the team forfeited its second-round pick for the next two drafts and the curious sum of $500,000. (Hey, those ivory towers are not too cheap to build.) Such a severe punishment probably would have made Hammurabi and Draco cringe, though the latter meted out death penalty sentences for crimes much less harsh than being subjected to this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.
Goodell has been faced with a wide array of ne’er-do-wellism since he became commissioner back in 2006. Everything from “Pacman” to “Spygate” and the dogged (sorry) Michael Vick has thrust the commish back into the spotlight. Belichick attempted to decipher the New York Jets’ defensive signals in the 2007 Spygate scandal but was simply fined, not suspended, amid rumors that it was not the first time the Patriots’ head coach had masterminded such a scheme — not to mention that there was no grassy knoll to justify his filming.
The Saints fandango is unquestionably the harshest penalty delivered by the NFL’s capo di tutti capi. Reports say that an anonymous player first tipped off the league about the bounty program in 2010. Presumably there is indeed a fine line between being “miked up” for one of those hackneyed broadcast segments and wearing a wire. That could also be a reason why some say Jimmy Hoffa is interred in a relatively quiet piece of property: the Jets’ endzone. The 2009 NFC Championship game, when Favre was on his way to being knocked into Wrangler Jeans spokesman for life, aroused a lot of the suspicions.
Saints players were apparently not being truthful when asked about the program by league officials. Eventually the league got to the bottom of the scandal based on a review of tens of thousands of documents stipulating how much money was being paid and what players were being targeted. Not only did it prove that the team was up to no good, but it also reminds everyone that a paper shredder from Staples is sometimes a wise investment. Apparently no such “Easy” button existed during the three-year window for New Orleans, which repeatedly denied to the league that a bounty program was being instituted, all the while continuing to implement it on teams and flouting authority in the process. The punishment is still not complete, with up to 27 players on the team under investigation by the NFLPA for taking part in the malfeasance.
One would figure that Virginia probably would have found out the truth about Santa Claus eventually, just in the same way that the NFL brain trust should have had to know that bounties exist within the confines of the league. The league can’t be so completely disbelieving to not realize that at some point during a weekly team meeting, an opposing quarterback’s injury report is discussed and strategies to exploit/target these injuries are implemented. The NFL has become a high stakes game of poker and, despite the sage advice of country music chicken guru Kenny Rogers, most teams will choose not to fold without a fight. When teams and players are under a weekly microscope and so much value is placed on each game, broken down and excoriated to its fundamental components, a win-now mentality drives teams and players to misdeeds.
Does anyone really believe the New Orleans Saints scheme circa 2009-2011 is unique? Such tactics probably have been in use since the days of leather helmets, unappealing uniforms, and watermelon-shaped footballs. Only now, amid the Saints’ deceit, does the league choose to come down hard. Take concussions, for example. This has been a health issue plaguing sports like football for years. The physical forces of football — the ones that kept me off the football field and shoved me neatly into a six-by-eight locker — have always been there. ESPN once popularized a “Jacked Up” segment prior to Monday Night Football Games celebrating punishing hits without so much a hint of concern for the poor schlub who will one day be unwittingly placing the remote control in the refrigerator as a result of said pummeling. Yet, only recently has the league taken serious steps to remedy the issue.
No question the Saints’ program is wrong and should be punished, but whenever some scandal hits the NFL and is punished spectacularly, it seems like the league is being run by that pictorial adage of the three monkeys who purport to hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil. As if these issues were somehow groundbreaking. In this case, the final punishment came only about three years too late.
Well, if nothing else, the issue of bounty programs being brought to the forefront has done a lot of good. For me, at least, it has brought about a degree of vigilance. I was at the grocery store recently when my leg was broadsided by a blue-hair with a loaded cart not looking both ways before exiting Aisle 7. One must wonder: Was Gregg Williams behind this?
Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIREGoogle+