When Vikings coach Brad Childress returned to Minneapolis after the NFC Championship loss two-plus years ago, he got a tape together of eight hits on quarterback Brett Favre that were not flagged for penalties in the game. He was, I am told, very upset about what he saw as the excessive brutality in the game that left Favre bruised and hobbled afterward, and he wanted the league to look into the hits.
It's not uncommon for a coach, especially a losing one, to send several plays for the league to review after a game. Eight is a lot. And the league, led by then-vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, did look into them. Pereira found only one of the hits to be a play that, in his opinion, should have been flagged: the high-low hit by Saints linemen Bobby McCray and Remi Ayodele late in the third quarter on a play Favre rushed, threw an interception and was hit after he released the ball.
That play, clearly, should have been flagged by referee Pete Morelli. The league admitted it a couple days later, and ended up fining McCray $20,000 for that play and another earlier in the game when he drove himself into Favre after a handoff. (A handoff, mind you; not a pass. How often have you seen unnecessary roughness called on a defensive player for hitting the quarterback after a handoff? I can't recall ever seeing that, aside from this play.)
Interesting what might have happened had Morelli thrown the flag.
The game was tied at 21 when Favre threw the interception, then got chopped down. The resulting personal foul against McCray would have given the Vikings a first down at the New Orleans 24 with 1:59 left in the third quarter. Let's say Favre, who was helped off the field with his ankle injury after the play, missed the rest of that series and Tarvaris Jackson, the backup, entered the game. Let's assume, for a moment, that the drive stalled and the Vikings had fourth down from the Saints 20-yard line. That would have set up a weather-less 37-yard field-goal try by Ryan Longwell (28 of 30 in field goals that season). Would it have made a difference in the outcome of the game, which was 28-28 after four quarters? The game of course was won by the Saints, 31-28, in overtime.
Hard to imagine Favre, regardless how he felt, not playing in the Super Bowl two weeks later. I bet he would have, come hell or high water. But he wasn't sure about that when we spoke Friday. "I wonder if I would have been able to play in the Super Bowl,'' said Favre. "I'm just telling I could not walk on Tuesday. That was a bad one.''
Just another part of this story that makes you sit back and wonder a lot of things about that day in January 2010.
One more point about this story, on a personal note: Former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita is ensnared in it. I reported in
But I have gotten to know Fujita well over the past couple of years for his work as a member of the NFLPA board of directors and as one of the driving forces behind former Saint Steve Gleason's foundation and Gleason's struggle with ALS. With the NFLPA, I found him driven like very few on the board to work to improve player safety and to lessen non-game contact work that players must endure. His work was legitimate and dedicated.
He has done even more for Gleason, particularly on Gleason's trip to the Super Bowl with two fellow ALS patients. Fujita, now a Cleveland Brown, got a friend of Colt McCoy's to fly the Gleason group to Indianapolis for the game by private plane. He arranged for the tickets. He arranged for the hotel rooms, which was quite difficult. He asked for no credit and in fact eschewed credit when any came his way. All he wanted to do was something for his friend to make sure the roadblocks and detours that would normally make such a trip difficult for a man with Gleason's physical struggles would disappear. And they did.
Fujita didn't seek headlines for his NFLPA work, nor for the stuff he has done for Gleason. This is a very good human being who -- and I am not sure of this -- may regret today getting caught up in something sordid, but something so accepted in the private NFL world of bounties for making plays. I'm not talking about bounties for knocking foes out of games. I'm talking about payments for performance. Every player on that defense will face potential discipline for this issue, Fujita included. I just wanted to tell you what I think of the man.
It's been a long time since I've gotten more email on one topic. I want to give as many of you as I can the chance to be heard.
COULD THEY BE THE RAIDERS II?
Time will tell. Certainly there's going to be a scarlet letter on the franchise over this issue.
WHITHER THE RAMS?
I'm told they're going to hang onto Williams. But if he's suspended for the season, they may have to reconsider.
COMPARING IT TO SPYGATE.
Understood. I see your argument. No question the Patriots did gain a competitive advantage through the videotaping of signals. But I believe this is worse. The league is defending itself against lawsuits claiming the game is too violent and leads to too much head trauma. They have to bring the hammer down on a team that has a coach and players paying and earning off-the-books cash for trying to injure opponents and knock them out of games.
THIS STUFF HAPPENS ALL THE TIME.
The fact is, though, that the NFL claims to have a player leader on the Saints offering $10,000 to knock a quarterback out of the game by hurting him. The league can't tolerate that, in my opinion.
A SAINTS FAN IS SAD.
I think you need to let the story play out a little bit. I'd like to hear from Payton and Mickey Loomis and the players involved a little more. But you're right -- there's no question this tarnishes what they did they did three years ago. I don't think it ruins it, but some of the good feeling has to be dissolving.
VIKE FANS ARE NOT PLEASED.
Folks in the league office read this column, so your voice has just been heard.
TOO HARSH, IMO.
That's going too far, but you're not the first person to suggest it.
CHRIS THINKS WE'RE OVERPLAYING THE STORY.
The difference, of course, is that an off-the-books bonus was offered, in cash, according to the NFL, for anyone who would knock Favre out of the game.
COUNT THIS FAN OUTRAGED.
Whoa. You're quite the hanging judge. But I'm glad to see some fans are outraged by this. I think you all should be.
INTERESTING POINT FROM BRENT.
Good email, Brent. There's a difference, I think, in going out and trying to pulverize the quarterback within the rules and going out when you've been offered a bounty to try to injure the quarterback and knock him out of the game. As for your double jeopardy opinion, I think it's a good question ... but I believe all bets are off when you add bounties and pocket cash to the motivation for the plays that led to the fines in the first place.
WILLIAMS SHOULD BE BANNED.
Thanks for your kind words, Richard. And your opinions are duly noted.
SAINTS FAN SPEAKS OUT.
Excellent point. But I feel the draft pick part of this has to be done ... because you need to give the Saints, and the other 31 teams in the league, significant motivation to be sure that this bounty practice is eradicated across the league.
THE MEDIA SHOULD HAVE KNOWN.
Excellent question. I am almost embarrassed I haven't heard more about this stuff over the years, especially because I have been around the Saints a lot. But as this story has unfolded, I think you've noticed a wall of silence. Milquetoast, almost obligatory comment from the owner. Nothing from the coach. Nothing from the GM. Nothing from the assistant coaches. Nothing from 51 of the 53 players. When you have a secret you want to have kept, you do everything you can to keep it. That's how Williams and the players acted, obviously.