Saints fans shouldn’t look far for blame on bounties


Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe was there on Jan. 24, 2010, when the New Orleans Saints and Vikings squared off to see who would represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Saints had never been to a Super Bowl, while the Vikings last appearance was in 1977. It was a physical game with a ton on the line.

“We thought that they were hitting Brett (Favre) kind of late but you never want to think that other players are out there with the specific intent to cause injury,” Kluwe said. “Unfortunately, it appears some of the Saints players were.”

Hits high, hits low, hits high and low at the same time. Whatever punishment New Orleans tried to dole out, it wouldn’t be enough for someone to claim the $10,000 that linebacker Jonathan Vilma put up of his own money if any of his teammates delivered the blow that would knock Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the game, even if Favre’s ankle resembled the color of his helmet in the following days.

If you watched the game, you know that Minnesota did enough to lose the game themselves with five turnovers and six fumbles. However, it makes you wonder whether or not Favre would have covered the spacious five yards in front of him on the final Vikings play of regulation instead of throwing across the field resulting in an interception if the now infamous Saints bounty program was not in effect.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell laid down the stiffest penalties in league history last week after finding that the Saints, at the behest of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, orchestrated a bounty system to knockout opposing players from the game during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons, a practice that Williams also initiated during his time with the Washington Redskins.

The result was this: A $500,000 fine for the organization, an eight game suspension and $500,000 fine for general manager Mickey Loomis, a year long suspension with no pay (at a loss of over $5 million) for head coach Sean Payton, an indefinite suspension for now St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a six game suspension for assistant Joe Vitt and the loss of their second round draft pick in 2012 and 2013.

The 22 to 27 players that reportedly took part are still waiting their fates, likely to be dozens of games missed and millions of dollars in fines.

“I think any player that took money for a hit that caused injury should be suspended for a year,” said Kluwe, one of the more opinionated players in the NFL. “There’s no place for anything like that in the game of football. To those that think the punishment was too much, try putting yourself in an injured player’s shoes. You’re talking about a person’s ability to put food on the table for their family. To try to deliberately ruin someone else’s livelihood is the essence of criminal behavior. I think they’ll be lucky if they avoid jail time.”

The Saints became America’s team after Hurricane Katrina. It became as common as a sunrise that when you watched a Saints game, New Orleans and their recovery would be brought up. This was as prevalent as ever during their 2009 season and run to the Super Bowl.

The leader and face of the recovery, the team and the city became quarterback Drew Brees. He has led New Orleans to relevancy in the football world, but his comments following the NFL’s fines and suspensions made him seem as ignorant about the situation as the team ball boy.

“I am speechless,” Brees lamented on Twitter. “Sean Payton is a great man, coach, and mentor. The best there is. I need to hear an explanation for this punishment.”

Here is your explanation. Sean Payton let a head-hunting operation knowingly go on. The goal was to target the opponent in such a way that they would no longer be able to continue. He knew about it and didn’t try to stop it.

“It’s possible he (Brees) didn’t know,” Kluwe said. “I wasn’t in the locker room so I don’t know how often he hung around the defensive guys. I think it’s unlikely, considering how much of a leader of the team he is, but I don’t think he’s the type of guy that would have had an active hand in the bounty system. Again though, I wasn’t there so I don’t know.”

Some might be saying, “Why even bring up the hurricane? It is not relevant to this situation.” After watching interviews from the people of New Orleans, they have a different view. They bring up the hurricane as an example of how tough the city is and how this Saints thing is just another obstacle they have to overcome.

To say that is ignorant. The damage of a hurricane, that ruined the lives of so many and forced one of the country’s great cities to rebuild is not comparable to a group of high-priced athletes who broke the rules. It blurs the line that is commonly toed between a city or a state and its fans. The supporters may feel important and the players and coaches may tell the fans that they are but the Saints could and would play without fans if they stopped showing up. No matter how loud they scream or how imposing they may appear, the fans will never score a touchdown or make an interception. Fans don’t win games. They don’t make decisions.

New Orleans: you are turning into the old man that still talks about his athletic glory days in high school whose life peaked at the age of 18. In the NFL, time is continuously fleeting. No one cares anymore. The longer you talk about it, the sadder you become.

It should come as no surprise that Louisiana is one of the least educated and poorest states in the country. The two go hand in hand. Only 20 percent have a bachelor’s degree and it has an 18 percent poverty rate, fourth highest in the country. I haven’t seen anyone with any common sense come out and disagree with the penalties levied from the NFL, except for Saints fans. Even if you are a fan of the team, you have to come to the realization that what the Saints did was wrong and under no circumstances should they be celebrated.

As much as people were proud of being from New Orleans and the joy that the Saints gave them, they should be equally ashamed of their football team now.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Saints fans routinely wore paper bags over their heads to mask their identities at the Superdome. It might be time to pull those back out again.