TORONTO - Gregg Williams has been summoned to the NFL throneroom.
The bounty hunter is now the hunted.
Commissioner Roger Goodell is squinting at him sideways for making the league look like a bunch of cut-throats.
The NFL has a 50,000-page report documenting how the defensive coordinator targeted players, specifically Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, the Vikings’ Brett Favre, perhaps Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson.
It reveals Williams supervised a rewards program for head-hunting while he was with the Saints, Redskins and Bills.
Chances are he won’t get another chance — at least not for some time — as defensive coordinator of the Rams, where head coach Jeff Fisher is positioning Dave McInnis to take over in the event Williams is suspended.
This is likely.
The NFL has to do something public to protect its gilded image. It’s not even so much that Williams broke the NFL’s mandate that forbids offering financial incentive for hurting people. It’s that he got caught. Afterall, that rule is pretty much broken every weekend during the season. It is broken every time James Harrison knocks somebody cleats-up. It could be argued every contract signed by a defensive player has that incentive. The unspoken truth is that when Ray Lewis stands across the line of scrimmage, or the Lions’ defence shows up on game day, they want to inflict punishment.
Ndamukong Suh may not want to break someone’s leg but, hey, stuff happens. Ever since getting patted on the backside by peewee coaches for “sticking” the quarterback there is a tacit acknowledgement that this game is about “getting” the other guy’s best player. Marquis of Queensbury rules need not apply.
Since Dick Butkus bent the rules like a dislocated thumb, spitting on Lions’ Ed Flanagan’s hands as the centre grabbed the ball prior to the snap, it has ever been thus. These days sports is testing the boundaries of good taste, where ultimate fighting is just a lion short of resembling a Roman Coliseum and football is facing scrutiny for the scrambled brains and broken bodies of former players.
So, let’s just say the NFL is a little sensitive to someone like Williams starting his own pay-for-pain program.
Former Colts coach Tony Dungy believes a bounty led to a hit by Washington’s Philip Daniels that is at the root of Peyton Manning’s chronic neck problems. Former safety Matt Bowen said bounty hunting happens all the time, not just with Williams, for whom he played in Washington. “It was our gig, our plan, our way to motivate, to extra-motivate,” Bowen writes in the Chicago Tribune.
Current and former players with the Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers franchise, some of whom played under Williams, told The Tennessean of Nashville that paid incentives were common, but deliberate injuries were not. “That stuff has been going on since Buddy Ryan, and long before that,” former Oilers linebacker Al Smith, who was coached by both men, told the newspaper. “Buddy used to put it simple: If you take the other team’s best player out, your chance of winning increases dramatically,” said Smith.
“Gregg felt the same way, but that’s the theme across the league. It was never ‘Go blow this guy’s knee out and you’ll get paid.’ It was just football. It was a defensive mentality thing.”
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma reportedly offered $10,000 to any defender who could knock Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game. None of which seemed to surprise Favre.
“I’m not pissed,” Favre said. “It’s football. I don’t think anything less of those guys. I would have loved to play with Vilma. Hell of a player. I’ve got a lot of respect for Gregg Williams. He’s a great coach. I’m not going to make a big deal about it. In all honesty, there’s a bounty of some kind on you on every play.”
Not that Favre likes the idea.
“There were some plays that, I don’t want to say were odd, but I’d throw the ball and whack, on every play. Hand it off, whack. Over and over. Some were so blatant. I hand the ball to Percy Harvin early and got drilled in the chin. They flagged that one at least. I’ve always been friends with Darren Sharper, and he came in a couple times and popped me hard. I remember saying, ‘What THE hell you doing, Sharp?’”
Williams has acknowledged his culpability.
Make an example of him? Sure. But if the NFL really wants to solve this issue it has to confront the culture that encourages savagery over sportsmanship.
It will take more than nailing Williams to the cross of public opinion to accomplish that.
BARKER SMELLS A RAT
Charles Barkley wants to “kill” the messenger. Figuratively.
Barkley smells a rat in this NFL bounty story, and it’s not Gregg Williams.
The former NBA star and Cherry-esque media clone is dismayed someone inside the Saints’ locker room would inform on Williams.
“You have to be a punk to snitch that out,” Barkley told the Dan Patrick show. “That’s like giving a reporter an anonymous quote. That makes you a punk, if you do anonymous, but also, you don’t bring that out x amount of years later.
“I’ve seen at least three or four well-known NFL players say all teams have bounties. So I’m glad they came to Gregg Williams’ defence. Because I’m pretty sure all teams have that.”
Barkley said NBA teams have bounties, recalling one instance when his Philly team was getting beaten and a player he refused to identify kept throwing up threes. “I’m a firm believer, if a guy shoots a three, that you knock his ass as far in the stands as you possibly can,” Barkley said. “We were getting beat by 30 or 40 ... and I said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to hurt that guy right there.’”
Barkley declined to name the player but the show’s researchers did uncover a 1992 story about Barkley going after Charlotte’s J.R. Reid at the end of a game the 76ers lost 136-84.