Members of the Vikings team that lost to New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game 26 months ago say NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acted appropriately Wednesday. And by appropriately, we mean using both barrels to blast Saints management to smithereens with a list of "Bountygate" punishments that shocked people throughout the league.
"I think it was necessary because there needs to be strong punishment any time a coach or a player thinks they can take someone else's career into their own hands and purposely do something that could end it," defensive end Jared Allen said. "We all play hard. But to give bonuses for carting someone off the field? Man, that's just wrong. There's no place for that in the NFL, and I think it's now safe to say you won't be hearing about bounties in the NFL ever again."
The Saints were caught violating the league's long-standing rule against bounties from 2009 to 2011. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended without pay for a year. General Manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight games. Former defensive coordinator and bounty mastermind Gregg Williams, who's now with the St. Louis Rams, was suspended indefinitely.
The Saints also were fined $500,000 and docked second-round draft picks this year and next. And that doesn't even include the punishment that's still to come for the 22 to 27 players cited in the league's investigation.
"It shows everyone that Goodell is definitely serious about player safety," defensive end Brian Robison said. "It's a tough league, but what [the Saints] did was messing with health and livelihood of guys. Goodell doesn't want to deal with this again. So he had to make an example of the Saints."
The punishment fits the crime and the attempted cover-up. At least that's how Vikings punter Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) saw things when he tweeted, "Commish sent the right message. It's one thing to break the rules. It's a completely different one to consistently lie about it for 3 years."
The Saints' 31-28 overtime victory in the NFC Championship Game in January of 2010 played a major role in this debacle. However, the bounty that was placed on then-Vikings quarterback Brett Favre isn't the reason the Vikings lost, said members of that losing team.
"We turned the ball over five times, we had 12 men in the huddle at the end," Allen said. "We did all kinds of things to ourselves that had nothing to do with bounties or anything like that."
According to the NFL's investigation, Saints linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to any player who knocked Favre out of that game. Favre, who was roughed up early and often, didn't leave the game, but did injure an ankle late in the third quarter on a hit that wasn't penalized but later drew a $20,000 fine for defensive lineman Bobby McCray.
Then-Vikings coach Brad Childress later complained to the league, saying there were eight plays that should have been roughing penalties but weren't. The only one the league agreed with was the hit by McCray, which came low and from behind while then-Saints nose tackle and now former Viking Remi Ayodele was hitting Favre high and legally.
Favre threw an interception on that play, which came with the score tied and the Vikings at the Saints 24-yard line. The defense held, the Vikings got the ball back and then lost a fumble at their 7-yard line. The Saints quickly scored to take a 28-21 lead.
That was one of three fumbles the Vikings lost that day. The other two came inside the Saints 10-yard line.
Fans, however, still want to believe it was the bounty that cost the Vikings a trip to the Super Bowl. They point to Favre's interception in the final seconds of regulation, saying he would have run for the first down through a wide-open space had his ankle not been hurt.
But a review of that play clearly shows that Favre was running fine until he decided to throw against his body into the middle of the field.
"It's the first thing they teach you not to do," Fox analyst Troy Aikman said.
It also was vintage Favre. As great as he was, being careless with the ball (translation for "gunslinger") was a trademark that Favre had established for about two decades before McCray hit his ankle.
"I know people have said we lost the game because of the bounty, but I disagree," Robison said. "You can say there were some iffy calls, like the pass interference on Ben Leber in overtime. ... But as far as the bounty being a factor? Nah. I just think there were a lot of other reasons we lost that game."
Mark Craig • email@example.com