TORONTO - Former safety Coy Wire admits the Buffalo Bills’ had a hit-squad.
And, he’s sorry.
“It wasn’t a whole team thing. It was just some guys that took things too far. We rewarded each other for that, and that was wrong. That was crossing the line,” Wire said in interviews with several outlets, including the Buffalo News.
Wire said the group pooled money and rewarded themselves for hurting opponents during his rookie season in 2002. Although coached by Gregg Williams, he said the pool was player operated and instigated.
Wire told the newspaper there was an environment of “malicious intent” when he arrived and that when a player made a big hit that hurt an opponent, “it was commended and encouraged.”
While Williams ran a bounty pool of up to $50,000 in New Orleans that is now being investigated by the NFL, Wire said the Bills’ program was never that comprehensive.
But Wire’s revelations, and those of other players, indicate that head-hunting is a regular occurrence in the NFL — not an isolated incident as the league would like to suggest.
Wire, in retrospect, says he is ashamed he never spoke up against the hit-squad mentality.
“I was a young, dumb rookie,” he said. “I wish I had the wits about me and was strong enough to realize that, ‘You know what, guys, this isn’t right.’ I wish I would’ve stood up then but I didn’t. And that’s why I’m speaking about it.”
Wire spent nine seasons in the NFL before being cut by the Falcons before last season, and one play back in 2003 nags at his conscience.
Wire, then a safety, made a hit on Lions’ running back James Stewart. A news account of that game reported that after Wire’s initial hit, “Stewart was dragged down from behind by three more defenders ... (and) lay on the field for several minutes as Lions trainers tended to his right shoulder. He then gingerly held out his hurt arm as he was led off the field.”
Stewart had a separated shoulder. He never played again.
What bothers Wire wasn’t the collision: “It was a clean, hard hit, and that’s just football,” Wire said. What bothers him is the exhilaration he felt seeing the injured Stewart being helped off the field.
“I patted myself on the back, and for that I’m ashamed,” he said. “My sense of normalcy was warped.”
It is that culture of not only condoning violence, but encouraging incapacitation, that the NFL wants to curb. And, Wire sees that as a good move — a healthy change for both the players and the league’s image.
There is nothing wrong with playing hard, with trying to make clean, hard hits. Nothing wrong with a solid tackle, and injuries will happen. It’s the nature of the game.
Trying to maim an opponent, rather than to beat him, should never have become part of the game. But to the detriment of those involved, it has.
These are gifted athletes and fans deserve to see them play, not hauled off on their shields like vanquished spartan warriors. In the end, there is no joy in that for anyone.
Wire feels conflicted by where he has been; where he is now, and where the league is going. As a result of football-related injuries, Wire has four screws holding a titanium plate in his neck, two fused vertebrae, and has since learned he has two more herniated discs. As the Falcons’ union representative he helped negotiate last year’s collective bargaining agreement, which focused heavily on player safety issues.
While Williams looks to be the scapegoat for the indiscretions of an untold many, which isn’t entirely fair, it could be the vanguard of a culture change within the NFL. That, said Wire, can only be good. “The NFL is undergoing an evolution now,” Wire said. “This can actually be a great moment for us as a league.”
Aaron Rodgers will soon be losing his wingman.
When the frenzy surrounding Peyton Manning wanes next week, attention will turn back to Matt Flynn.
“The team that gets Matt is going to be very happy, I can promise you. They’ll be getting a top-15 quarterback,” Rodgers said, recently.
That’s not a bad endorsement. But Flynn is to the NFL free agent quarterback derby, what Miss Congeniality is to the Miss America contest. Looks good! But not a proven winner! Matt Cassel and Kevin Kolb were supposed to be super-subs just a No. 1 job away from stardom, too.
Turns out Cassel has been adequate; Kolb less.
If a team takes Flynn hoping he’s the next Aaron Rodgers they’re likely to be disappointed; if they take him thinking he’ll be better than half the quarterbacks already starting in the league, they will be ... well, satisfied. But happy?
Face it. The only team that’s really happy in the NFL, is the one with the Super Bowl. Or, it seems, Peyton Manning.
Former linebacker Lofa Tatupu, 29, who didn’t play last season due to injuires, worked out for the Falcons Friday. The Saints and Raiders may also have an interest ... Defensive end Luis Castillo, released by the Chargers earlier this week, visited with the Chiefs. San Diego would like to have him back but at less than the $4.9 million he made in 2012 ...The Jaguars re-signed backup offensive tackle Guy Whimper. He was supposed to protect quarterback Blaine Gabbert last year. His best move was yelling: “Look OUT!” The team is hoping Eben Britton, who missed 15 games, will be back as the starter ... Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was pulled over and ticketed for speeding, improperly signalling, and not carrying proof of insurance in Portland. Says Mike Florio, of ProFootballTalk.com: “So, basically there was no stomping. (Except on the gas pedal).” ... Cornerback Dunta Robinson has restructured his contract to give the Falcons a little more money to spend on bringing in pass rushing help.