The NFL will tell you repeatedly that it's the cover-up, not the crime. That the harshness of the Saints' punishment is due to the lies and obstruction from the higher-ups, even moreso than the actual bounty program. They'll tell you this because they don't want to have to go around investigating and handing out death penalties to every team Gregg Williams has ever coached.
We know Williams ran bounty programs in Washington and Buffalo. But we want names and specific instances, damn it! CBS DC came through with two former players, anonymous, who confirmed two games where Williams literally put a stack of money on the table and said it was for knocking an opposing star out the game.
In the January 2005 playoffs, it was Seattle's Shaun Alexander being targeted, and LaVar Arrington did injure Alexander, but on a clean hit. In the opening game of next season, a Minnesota quarterback was in the crosshairs.
"Gregg came in and dropped $15,000 on the (table) and said, ‘Brad Johnson doesn't finish this game. This is Wednesday and the money will go up later in the week. It could double or triple by the end of the week,' "one of the players recalled. "A couple of guys kinda got excited. (Defensive line coach) Greg Blache said, ‘If you get fined, it will be taken care of.'"
"Bring me the head of Brad Johnson" is one of the more amusing sentiments the human race can express, but it was not random. Johnson was singled out because Williams knew he and owner Dan Snyder had it in for each other. (Johnson was a Pro Bowl quarterback in Washington, before leaving in free agency under some acrimonious circumstances.) But the Skins defense couldn't or didn't rough Johnson up, sacking him once—though Sean Taylor did pick up an unnecessary roughness call on a late hit. Last month another former Redskin, Phillip Daniels, had named Taylor as a big profiteer from bounty pools.
Says one of the anonymous players,
"I remember watching that Saints-Vikings championship game (in January 2010) and they were hitting (Minnesota quarterback Brett) Favre constantly," the first player said. "I remember telling my wife that it was the same thing Gregg had asked us to do with Brad Johnson."
Minnesota fans, furious with the Saints for what they perceive as bounty-inspired hits being directly responsible for losing their one Super Bowl chance with Brett Favre, should probably deflect some of that anger at Williams. His bounties were situational. Nothing personal, Favre. Just gotta do what it takes to win.
This is actually the most fascinating part of the players' reminiscences: it was about winning. At least in Washington, the bounties weren't paid out unless the Skins won. No one collected on Shaun Alexander's head because they lost. This isn't violence for violence's sake, but for the greater good. Pro athletes are funny guys, and they're not always logical, and it takes different ways to reach different players. Some respond well to cash, even if it's basically spare change to them. Money on the table? Just another arrow in the crafty coach's motivational quiver.
The former Redskins say this was all Gregg Williams, that Joe Gibbs wasn't aware of the bounty program. If true, that shouldn't save him or Dan Snyder from censure. In the NFL's announcement of New Orleans's penalties, they made it quite clear that shit floats upward, and failure to control or monitor the team played a large role in the punishments. The only difference is that the Saints were malicious and willful in their ignorance, while Redskins brass was just blissfully unaware. As usual.