Sorry Saints, Birds started this whole bounty business

We all participate in office pools.

The Saints took it to a whole new level over the past three seasons.

Former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been accused of installing a bounty system during his tenure there. As many as 27 bounties were placed on opponents, including high-profile stars like Brett Favre and Kurt Warner, and financed by Saints players. Head coach Sean Payton wasn’t directly involved, but he was aware of the system.

Under the system, players were paid $1,500 for knocking a player out of a game and $1,000 for carting a player off the field. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma reportedly offered $10,000 in cash to knock Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game.

“The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated.”

Players took en masse to Twitter Friday night to voice their opinions, with the vast majority supporting a “don’t ask don’t tell” kind of policy.

“It’s football, bounty or not. Keep head on swivel,” wrote Chad Ochocinco.

“This ‘bounty’ program happens all around the league…not surprising,” wrote Damien Woody.

Either way, the NFL is going to come down hard on Williams, who is now the defensive coordinator in St. Louis, and will make an example out of the Saints. We don’t expect anyone to lose a job, but big-time fines will be levied in the coming days and weeks.

Personally, we tend to side with Woody. Goodell has been trying to turn the NFL into a flag football league since taking the reins as commish. I’ve talked to numerous defensive players who don’t even know what constitutes a legit hit anymore. They have had to re-train themselves on how to play football, literally stopping mid-play to see if what they were about to do was legal.

It’s a messed up system, or as former Governor Ed Rendell famously said, it’s part of the “wussification of America.” Football is football. Guys are going to get hurt, it’s part of the game. That’s why we love it. Football players are the Roman gladiators of our times.

But this whole Saints mess also took us back to a kinder, gentler time. 1989. OK, maybe not gentler.

That was the year when then-Eagles coach Buddy Ryan proudly placed bounties on several Cowboys players, including QB Troy Aikman and kicker Luis Zendejas. The teams met twice in what became known as Bounty Bowl I and Bounty Bowl II.

In Bounty Bowl I, on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas, the Eagles placed a $200 bounty on Zendejas, who had been cut by the Birds earlier that season, and linebacker Jessie Small concussed the kicker with a hard hit. The Eagles won 27-0. Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson got into a war of words with Ryan.

In Bounty Bowl II, no one was officially knocked out of the game but the media ate it up at every turn. Then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue was in attendance at the Vet and the contest ended, a 20-10 Eagles win, with Philly fans hurling snowballs at Johnson.


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