Oh, When The Saints Go Head Hunting….

The New Orleans Saints, who could hate them? Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas have won the hearts of so many fans. Sean Payton has blown our minds as the head coach. Not always in a good way. This team mostly stays out of trouble, you don’t hear too much about any drama surrounding them. But in 2011 and 2012 you could not turn on a sports program without hearing their name; and “bountygate” was born.

On January 17, 2006 the Saints hire Sean Payon as their new head coach. On March 14 that same year the Saints signed former San Diego Chargers quarter back Drew Brees, to a six year, sixty-million-dollar deal. On September 19, 2006 Saint owner Tom Benson announced that the team had sold out the Superdome for everything single game that season. The Superdome had just undergone 186-million-dollar worth of renovation and I am sure all the fans wanted to see the inside. On September 25th the team played their first home game since the horrible tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, they beat the undefeated Atlanta Falcons 23-3. That game received the 2007 ESPY award for “best moment in sports”. This was the boost that Louisiana so desperately needed at the time. 

2007 and 2008 were decent years for the Saints but they would explode in 2009, resulting in their first Super Bowl appearance and win in franchise history. The television rating for Super Bowl XLIV (44) is still the highest the highest for any TV program, sports or otherwise, in history. This SB is seen by many as the official resurgence of Louisiana after the devastating hurricane. In 2010 the Saints once again clinched a spot in the playoffs, marking the first time a team in the NFC South had made back-to-back playoff appearances since the division was formed in 2002. They would fall to the Seattle Seahawks in the first round 41-46 after running back Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch (“I’m just here so I don’t get fined.” Dude just said what everyone probably wanted to say) had an explosive touchdown run late in the game.  

This brings us to (drum roll please……) the New Orleans Saints bounty hunting scandal getting leaked, someone said toot toot (that was more like a train sound but whatever), I am blowing the whistle on this bitch and busting it wide open. Just to give you a little background if you are not familiar with the sport of Football. Leading with your head against a player in any way, shape, or form is not tolerated and can actually lead to an ejection from a game. Now, accidents happen, but that is what instant replay is for and you can tell when someone does it intentionally or not. Lowering your head and making contact with another player with malicious intent to cause harm is 120% not allowed in the NFL, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. That being said you also can’t lead with your shoulder either, again, do accidents happen; yes. You also can’t chop block, or catch a quarterback under the knees. So basically, what we have here is flag football. I’m joking concussions are a very serious matter. The whole below the knee thing is actually called “The Brady Rule” getting its name from bitch ass baby Tom Brady. Point here is you can’t use excessive force with intent to injure another player. 

It is claimed head hunting or bounties have been around in the NFL for some time now but are seriously frowned upon. Officials have been accused of turning a blind eye to the matter at times. The NFL constitution specifically forbids bonuses for on-field misconduct; the league holds that such practices undermine the integrity of the game. Which is exactly what the Saints were doing, offering certain players more money to head hunt during games. During the 2010 off season an anonymous player informed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and other officials that the Saints targeted quarterbacks Brett Farve and Kurt Warner as part of a bounty program orchestrated by New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The leagues security department found the allegations credible enough to start an investigation. The NFL soon announced that they had enough evidence to prove that Gregg Williams starting bounty hunting shortly after he joined the Saints in 2009 and that he managed to get between twenty-two and twenty-seven New Orleans Saints players involved. 

While officials do not believe Sean Payton was directly involved in the head-hunting scheme, they do believe he knew about it and tried to cover it up. Saints owner Tom Bensen also demanded that Payton put a stop to things, which he did not do. In 2012 former Saints assistant coach Mike Cerullo contacted the NFL regarding an ongoing bounty scheme during the teams 2009 season. Cerullo was released after the 2009 postseason for poor performance and lying about personal leave according to the New Orleans Saints. He claimed he kept records of payments made regarding to the bounty hunting and that even though he was mad he was not making false accusations out of spite. 

Late in the 2011 football season the NFL claimed that they obtained significant and very credible evidence that the New Orleans Saints did indeed have a bounty hunting operation in place. The investigation went on for the remainder of the season and into the post season. On March 2, 2012 the NFL announced that they had solid evidence regarding a bounty hunting pool dating back to 2009. After taking on the tedious task of combing through 18,000 documents officials discovered that Gregg Williams had started the bounty hunting fund after shortly joining the NO staff in hopes of making the defense more aggressive. Both the players and Williams contributed their own money to the pot, and received cash payments based on their performance in the previous week’s game. For example, a player on special teams who downed a kick returner inside the receiving team’s twenty-yard-line would get one hundred dollars. Players also received “bounties” for “cart-offs” (plays in which an opponent was removed from the field on a stretcher or cart due to an injury) and “knockouts” (plays that resulted in a player being unable to return for the rest of the game). Players usually earned one thousand dollars for “cart-offs” and one thousand five hundred dollars for “knockouts” during the regular season. Payments were known to double or even triple during the playoffs. 

The NFL sent a confidential and detailed memo to all thirty-two NFL teams detailing its findings. It revealed that the Saints had not only targeted Warner and Favre during the 2009 playoffs, but had also targeted Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton during the 2011 regular season. How pissed would you be if you read that memo and you were one of those players? You were trying to take me out and possibly end my career all for some extra cash. I would have been furious…although I do love money so maybe I wouldn’t be too mad at ‘em. You guys remember Reggie Bush, right? He was the guy who didn’t make a sex tape with Kim Kardashian but was knocking boots with her for a while. Anyway, Bush’s agent Michael Ornstein, was closely involved in the scheme from the beginning. Ornstein even contributed ten thousand dollars to the pot in 2009, and an unknown amount in 2011. Naughty, naughty. The investigation continued into the 2012 off season and the NFL found evidence that the Saints put a bounty on former Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck during their 2011 wild-card playoffs game. What ever happened to that guy Matt Hasselbeck? Does anybody know what he is up to these days? 

They also had undeniable evidence that Sean Payton not only knew about the bounty hunting but that he also tried to cover it up during both league investigations. Just as they had suspected early on in the investigation. During the 2010 investigation, Payton told Williams to “make sure our ducks are in a row” when the officials interviewed them. Before the start of the 2011 season, Payton received an email from Ornstein detailing the scheme. In that same email, Ornstein offered five thousand dollars to anyone who knocked Rodgers out of the 2011 season opener. Payton initially denied knowing that this email existed, but eventually admitted that in fact he had read it. Several Chicago Bears players and fans believe that the Bears were targets of this program during the second game of the 2011 season, when the Bears played the Saints. Quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked six times, and nearly lost his voice when a Saints player kicked him in the throat. Damn, he straight kicked him dead ass in the throat, that is bold my dude. 

On July 26, 2012 Saint’s linebacker Jonathan Vilma and seven witnesses from the Saints testified in front of a federal judge in New Orleans that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell got his facts wrong in the bounty scandal.  Vilma later told ESPN “Everybody was sworn in under oath in front of a judge with the risk of perjury and jail time if we were lying, and categorically denied there was a bounty.” He also asked that ESPN stop reporting false information; “Seven people testified, 2 sworn affidavits all saying the same thing. I ask that you and ESPN report the facts. No more bias or b.s. or hearsay. I gave you facts that you can report if so choose.” Tulane University Sports Law Program Director Gabe Feldman (who attended the court hearing) said, “Clearly the judge, by her questions, indicated she thinks Goodell overstepped his authority, and this case was always going to be about if he executed his power fairly… The NFL’s retort is that with all due deference, you don’t get to second guess Goodell. Judges only have limited jurisdiction over arbitration issues.” Man, this shit went all the way to a federal court, this must be serious.

Williams left the Saints and became the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis (now L.A) Rams shortly after the close of the 2011 season. He was summoned to NFL headquarters in February of 2012 after the investigation came to an end. Although initially denying any involvement in “bountygate”, he would recant his statement and confess to everything during a private meeting with Roger Goodell.  Gregg Williams eventually issued a statement on the matter calling his involvement “a terrible mistake.” Williams said that he knew all along the fund broke the rules, and that “I should have stopped it” rather than get further involved. Yeah, right, he never had any intention of stopping anything. As my Dad says “You can’t bullshit the bullshitter” …. or something like that, basically, nice try dude. Roger Goodell released his own statement saying that he found it “particularly disturbing” that the Saints were intentionally trying to injure other players.  And that players and coaches involved in the scheme could face fines or suspensions, and the Saints could be docked picks in the 2012 NFL Draft and future drafts. 

Tom Benson issued a statement on the Saints’ Website saying, “I have been made aware of the NFL’s findings relative to the “Bounty Rule” and how it relates to our club. I have offered and the NFL has received our full cooperation in their investigation. While the findings may be troubling, we look forward to putting this behind us and winning more championships in the future for our fans.” On March 12, 2012 the NFL handed down their punishments to any coaches and front staff involved in the scandal: 

* Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely, and was banned from applying for reinstatement until the end of the 2012 season at the earliest 

*Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season, effective April 1. He is the first head coach in modern NFL history to be suspended for any reason. (I remember when I heard he got suspended I was like…bitch whaaaattttt!?) The last being former New England Patriots coach Chuck Fairbanks in 1978.

* Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for the first eight games of the 2012 season 

*Assistant coach Joe Vitt, who had been tabbed as a possible candidate to serve as interim coach in Payton’s absence, was suspended for the first six games of the 2012 season 

The Saints as a whole were fined the league maximum of five hundred thousand dollars and had to forfeit their second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013. They had already traded their first-round draft pick to the New England Patriots. On May 2, 2012 punishments were handed down the player involved with “bountygate”.  

*Linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the entire 2012 NFL season 

* Former Saints defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove was suspended for eight games 

* Saints defensive end Will R. Smith was suspended for four games 

* Former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita (then with the Cleveland Browns, now retired) was suspended for three games 

Vilma’s suspension went into effect immediately, while the other three players were allowed to attend training camp. Goodell said that while a large number of players were involved in the bounty hunting he chose to suspend the players who were; while a large number of players took part in the program, he chose to suspend those players who “were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation.” On October 27, 2012, former league commissioner Paul Tagliabue postponed the bounty appeals hearing, expecting to set a new schedule on October 29, 2012. I am a bit confused about that since he is the former commissioner of the NFL and not the current one, if anyone can clear that up for me it would be appreciated.  On December 11, with three games left in the regular season, Tagliabue vacated the players’ suspensions, stating;”I affirm Commissioner Goodell’s factual findings as to the four players. I conclude that Hargrove, Smith and Vilma—but not Fujita—engaged in ‘conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football …” He would lay primary responsibility of the situation on Sean Payton and Gregg Williams. Had the suspensions of Vilma and Hargrove been upheld, they would have been the longest for an on-field incident in modern NFL history, topping the previous record set in 2006, when then-Titans defensive end Albert Haynesworth was given a five-game suspension for stomping on the head of Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Andre Gurode. Fujita played the first four games of the season for the Browns before suffering a season-ending (and ultimately, career-ending) neck injury. I’m not going to say karma is a bitch, but karma is a bitch. 

There you have it the tale of “bountygate”. Before I let you go, I will have you know that after the Saints story broke wide open four former Washington Redskins players and a coach came forward claiming; that Gregg Williams operated a similar scheme while being the defensive coordinator for the team from 2004 to 2007. Several former Buffalo Bills players came forward claiming that Gregg Williams did the same thing while he was head coach from 2001 to 2003. Beloved former NFL coach Tony Dungy would also state that Williams ran a bounty system while he was the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans from 1997 to 2000. He also believes that Williams put a bounty on Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning during Super Bowl XLIV (44), and targeted Manning on several occasions while with the Titans. Williams did have one person in his corner, former safety Ryan Clark, who played under Williams in Washington from 2004–2005 and himself was fined by the NFL forty thousand dollars for a helmet-to-helmet hit against Baltimore Ravens tight end Ed Dickson during the 2011 season, defended Williams, saying that he never ran a bounty program with the Redskins and has yet to see one during his time in the league. I suppose old habits die hard and some lessons are never learned. Although if he got away with it before you can’t blame him for thinking he could get away with it again. Maybe the guys should leave the bounty hunting to Dog.

Sources:

Saints Bounty Scandal – ESPN

Gregg Williams On Bountygate – CBS Sports

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