Sid Hartman: Grant says officials deserve blame, not Saints

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 7, 2012 - 10:51 PM

The former Vikings coach says bonus pay for play has been around in the NFL since his playing days in the 1950s.

Longtime Vikings coach Bud Grant, still one of the sharpest judges of the NFL game, can't understand why league administration didn't look to punish the officiating crew that worked the 2010 NFC Championship Game between the Vikings and Saints, whose responsibility it is to control the physical nature of the game.

Instead, the focus has remained on the bounty situation that has come out, with Saints players getting paid for hurting quarterback Brett Favre and other players.

"One thing that helped in the bounty case is the officials are responsible for calling penalties," Grant said. "Over the years, you might have noted that they don't call many penalties in playoff games or Super Bowl games -- they reduce the penalties."

The crew of referee Peter Morelli, umpire Roy Ellison, head linesman Mark Hittner, line judge Byron Boston, side judge Tom Hill, field judge Dyrol Prioleau, back judge Bill Schmitz and replay official Ken Baker did a terrible job that day. Even some Saints players wondered how they got by with so many illegal hits. Like one important NFL official said, "Favre looked he came out of a car wreck after the game."

Said Grant: "The players will do whatever they can, whatever they can get away with. If [officials] had flagged New Orleans for those hits, and if you penalize them, then they cannot do it anymore. But as long as the officials let it go like it went [in the NFC Championship Game], then we were the victim, Favre was the victim, of those vicious late hits. The officials have to accept some of the blame for that."

Grant, who has campaigned for full-time officials in the NFL, said bounty situations are nothing new and existed when he played with the Eagles in 1951 and '52. "When I played, and I've talked to [Vikings consultant and former Browns player] Paul Wiggin, too, and other players that have played in the National Football League, a lot of teams have bonuses for interceptions, and sometimes it's among the players themselves.

"The defensive players will say, 'We'll each put in the pot if you get an interception,' but the team did not always provide the bonuses. But when I was with the Eagles, the team provided the bonuses. I got bonuses for sacks and fumble recoveries, I got one interception, but it was like $10. It's not like it was today, it's a lot more money today."

Grant said the Saints aren't the exception. "Most teams had that, but they don't call it bounty and they don't call it trying to put a player out of the game," he said. "Every coach teaches when the guy is on his feet, he's not down, you go in and get another hit on him to knock the ball loose. That's football. If they're going to take that out of football, they're going to lose a lot of their appeal."

Vikings coaches wouldn't talk on the record then after reviewing the film of that Saints game, because they would have been fined if they criticized officials. But I remember the comments by then-coach Brad Childress, who could not believe what the Saints got away with right in front of officials' eyes.

Incidentally, the league pulled the replay of the Vikings-Saints game off the NFL Network after having it scheduled to be shown last Monday.

Lucia does good job

A year ago, a lot of the hockey buffs who think hockey is the only sport that exists wanted Don Lucia fired and threatened to run a full-page ad in the newspaper to encourage Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi to find a new coach.

Well, now that the Gophers have won the MacNaughton Cup, all is quiet on the local front, and those critics who think they are experts don't exist when it comes to Lucia and his ability to coach.

No doubt the fact that Maturi helped bring Mike Guentzel back as associate head coach played a part in the success of the team. Guentzel left the Gophers in 2008 after 14 years as an assistant but returned this season.

"Mike has done a terrific job, he really has," Lucia said. "Grant [Potulny] and our staff and Justin Johnson working with the goaltenders and the defense core has done a really nice job. We thought it'd be a pretty seamless transition, and it has worked out that way. Mike obviously has a lot of passion for this hockey program and I think it shows with our players."

The Gophers will play Alaska-Anchorage, the team that knocked them out of the WCHA playoffs last year. "So we're kind of excited to get a chance to play them again," Lucia said.

Certainly, after this weekend at Mariucci Arena, the Gophers hope to keep playing in St. Paul. After again holding the WCHA Final Five, Xcel Energy Center also is home to the NCAA's West Regional.

Jottings

• John Anderson has done a fantastic job of coaching Gophers baseball for 30 years, but the one thing holding up his new five-year contract is that there are University of Minnesota officials who want a clause in the contract saying Anderson "can be terminated without cause." Memo to those officials: I wonder if new school President Eric Kaler would agree with that approach to such a loyal and successful employee. ... As for the Gophers baseball team itself, it is hurting with injuries to two important seniors: third baseman Kyle Geason and outfielder Trip Schultz.

• With the Twins drafting No. 2 overall this year, the Vikings No. 3 and the slumping Wild sure to draft in the top five, we have a situation where three of our teams are among the worst in their leagues at the same time for the first time.

• Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and Gophers coach Jerry Kill got together the other day, and Southern Illinois was the subject. It's where Spielman played his college football and Kill coached. ... Among the scouts attending the Gophers pro day Monday was Ryan Jones, a Gophers graduate assistant in 1991 who has been with the Giants since 2000.

• Matt Sheldon, a member of Childress' Vikings staff as assistant defensive backs coach, has joined Marc Trestman and the Montreal Alouettes as linebackers coach.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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