Paging Captain Renault: My take on the Saints bounty scandal

March 4, 2012

Dialogue from the movie “Slap Shot”

Joe McGrath (Strother Martin): “A bounty? Are you nuts!?! We could all go to the clink for this! You can’t put a bounty on a man’s head!”

Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman ): “I just did.”

In “Slap Shot,” after Reg put the $100 bounty on the head of Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken - “Known to carve a man’s eye out with the flick of a wrist!” - Dr. Hook responded by putting together a roster of the most notorious goons in the Federal League for the rematch.

So my question is, when the New Orleans Saints play the Arizona Cardinals again, are the Cards going to get football’s equivalent of Ogie Ogilthorpe to exact revenge for the Saints’ bounty on Kurt Warner in 2009?

I had to weigh in on this topic, since right now, the national sports media has their panties in a real bunch over the Saints bounty program. Here’s the background, but the gist of the story is, Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had a bounty system in place that rewarded players for “knock-outs” and “limp-offs,” among other things.

Williams administered this system with the full knowledge of coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis, and apparently had a similar system in place at his various stops around the league, most notably with the Washington Redskins.

Of course, many of the national columnists are mortified that the Saints would have a program that would reward players for intentionally trying to injure opponents. You can bet ESPN’s top bloviator, Skip Bayless, will be in danger of having his head explode from the outrage he is sure to express Monday morning.

My surprise is not that the Saints had bounties out on guys, but that they got caught.

That teams would have bounties shouldn’t be too surprising to national media pundits either, but those guys love to crank up the outrage machine when it’s revealed that – the horror! – football is a nasty, violent sport. Of course, as is us media types’ wont, the word “-gate” has been affixed to this scandal, apparently now known as “Bountygate.” For the love of God can we stop this stupid practice?

Mind you, I don’t condone having bounties, particularly in this age where we know how damaging concussions are, but I’m not at all surprised that they are out there.

In my opinion, the Saints bounty program is not worse than the Patriots Spygate scandal. I bet if you ask players, they take more offense at something like Spygate, where one team is trying to gain an unfair advantage, than something like the bounty program. Players know, and are taught since they start playing, that they should have their head on a swivel at all times. You play the game of football with the knowledge that every play could lead to a potential injury. If players get hurt in the course of a game, they can live with that, even if it was the result of a bounty program, whereas losing because another team videotaped your signals is much more grievous because it had nothing to do with the players on the field.

And it’s not like bounties in football are some new thing that Gregg Williams suddenly invented. In his book “They Call Me Assassin,” Jack Tatum freely admitted that the Oakland Raiders of the mid-to-late 1970s awarded points for “knock-outs” and “limp-offs.” The University of Miami Hurricanes of the late-80s had a system where players were paid for big hits, funded by booster and 2 Live Crew rapper Luther Campbell. Of course, Philadelphia fans remember the “Bounty Bowl” games where Eagles coach Buddy Ryan had bounties out on Dallas Cowboys Troy Aikman and Luis Zendejas.

As a Baltimore Ravens fan, I have my own experience with bounties. In 2008, after a hard-fought loss in Pittsburgh, Terrell Suggs admitted, possibly in jest, you never know with Sizzle, that the Ravens had bounties out on Steelers Hines Ward and Rashard Mendenhall.

While Siz later denied that there was a bounty – if there was, Ray Lewis had collected on Mendenhall by breaking the running back’s shoulder – that he was brazen enough to even joke about it in a radio interview tells me that bounties are more part of the game than the public would think.

I guess my attitude on bounties is different because I at least have some experience in the game, albeit at a much lower level. While none of the teams I ever played on in high school or college ever put bounties on someone – we most certainly didn’t have the money – when we played a big rival, we would talk about “getting” a guy, which is code for hitting him hard with the potential for injury.

Now take that attitude to the pros where you have some legit rivalries, personally and professionally, such as Ravens-Steelers, Patriots-Jets, Cowboys-Eagles. These are teams that play each other, potentially, three times a year. You’re telling me they aren’t going to develop bad blood and possibly devise a bounty to “get” a certain guy? Again, I’m not saying its right, just saying, lets not act like it’s the athletic equivalent to waterboarding.

And that not only goes for the national sports writers, who I expect the Pollyanna routine from, but Roger Goodell and the NFL higher-ups as well. Just sit back and watch as this unfolds and see Goodell go into his impersonation of Claude Rains from “Casablanca” - “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!” Puh-leeze.

If the league wants to come down on the Saints for the bounty program, I don’t mind. If the league is trying to discourage this sort of activity, and by all means they should if they’re worried about concussions, fine the hell out of them, strip them of draft picks, do whatever you got to do.

But for those that think the Saints have committed some atrocity against the sanctity of the game, keep this in mind: pro football is a violent, physical, high-stakes sport. There are no guaranteed contracts – the only guaranteed money players get is their signing bonus and the bonuses they receive for winning games (each player on the Super Bowl-winning New York Giants received an $88,000 bonus).

Add to that mix the fact that, on the field, football is controlled devious coaches who will do anything to win games and keep their jobs.

With that in mind, why should we be shocked if a coach goes all Reg Dunlap and puts a little money out there for big hits that can help him win? Why should we be shocked when a player pulls a Dave “Killer” Carlson and eagerly tries to collect? Under those conditions, the only surprise is that it doesn’t happen more often.

  • Ryan Mavity has been a reporter with the Cape Gazette since February 2007. He covers the city of Rehoboth Beach, Baltimore Ravens football and Delaware State University football. He lives in Georgetown with his wife, Rachel and their son, Alex.

    Contact Ryan at