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New Orleans Saints: Bounty Hunters

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I played football in High School and I like to think I was pretty good. One thing in particular I took pride in was the number of stickers on my helmet. If I sacked the QB I got a sticker. If I recovered a fumble I got a sticker. And if I hit someone so hard he started to wonder why the world was spinning, I’d get two stickers. A lot of High Schools and colleges still award helmet stickers to players when they make a big play.

The same thing happens in the NFL only they don’t get stickers, they get money, usually in the neighborhood of a few hundred to a thousand dollars depending on the play. The media has dubbed them bounties. There was even the famous Thanksgiving day game between the Cowboys and Eagles that is now referred to as "The Bounty Bowl" thanks to rumors Eagles coach Buddy Ryan offered to pay $200 to anyone who would take out Cowboys kicker Luis Zendejas.

A perfectly coifed Jimmy Johnson said after the game, "I have absolutely no respect for the way they played the game, I would have said something to Buddy, but he wouldn’t stand on the field long enough. He put his big, fat rear end into the dressing room."

The now proud father of the two perfectly behaved sons, Rex Ryan and Rob Ryan, said at the time, "I resent that. I’ve been on a diet, lost a couple of pounds. I thought I was looking good." I guess the apple really doesn’t fall very far from the tree. Unless it’s perched on the edge of a cliff then it probably would fall far away. But it didn’t in this case.

Recently the Saints have been in the news thanks to NFL findings that the defense maintained a pay for performance pool. In essence defensive players and coaches contributed money to the pool and any time a player made a big hit they were paid. Knocking a player out was worth $1,500 and forcing a player to be carted off the field was worth $1,000.

On the surface that looks bad. How could they reward a player for injuring someone on the other team? But when you really think about it you realize they’re already being paid hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, to do that already.

This isn’t "The Karate Kid" where Bobby is being told to take Danny out of commission. Players aren’t yelling from the sidelines, "Get him a body bag!" although I guess there was a "Body Bag Bowl" between the Eagles and Redskins where 8 Redskins players had to be taken off the field. If players were being paid for cheap shots then I could understand the outrage. But if it’s a clean legal hit I don’t see the problem.

Take the hit Donte Whitner made on Pierre Thomas in the playoffs. If I found out afterwards Whitner was paid $1,500 for that hit I’d say he deserved it. That play changed the momentum of the game. And let’s be honest. I don’t think any player earning a million dollars a year is thinking he better knock someone out or he’s not going to be able to pay his mortgage this month.

Most defensive players not named Deion Sanders are already trying to hit the opposing players as hard as they can. The money is just a nice recognition from the coaches and players much like the helmet stickers I used to get. If anything, getting themselves on Sports Center is probably a bigger motivation than the money. Will Rodger Goodell next ban any replays of big hits on sports shows? Will the games be run on a delay so all big hits can be edited from those watching on TV? If the players know only the fans watching at the stadium will get to see their bone crushing hit, will they be less likely to try?

I understand wanting to protect the players, and the NFL should do all they can to accomplish that. But as long as there’s tackling players will get hurt. The only way to totally protect the players would be to remove all the padding and helmets and strap flags around their waists. And even then players will get hurt.

Maybe the NFL should just dress all the players in oversized padded outfits and they can bumble around the field like giant stay puft marshmallow men. That would at least have the benefit of making the game more popular in Japan.

If the Saints are guilty of anything they’re guilty of stupidity. The minute they found out the NFL knew about their "pay for performance" pool they should have stopped knowing just how hard Goodell is trying to crack down. Continuing in spite of that knowledge is either ignorance or arrogance, probably a little of both.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said of the pay for performance program, "It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it." I’m guessing he got that apology from the "What to say when you’ve been caught having an affair" handbook.

Of course he has to apologize. If you want to continue to work in front of the public eye you have to seem contrite whenever you’re caught doing something the general populace doesn’t like even if you’re not really that sorry. Even Chris Brown apologized if only in a real roundabout sort of way.

No doubt there will be some heavy punishments laid down in an effort to send a message. And if they were targeting specific players some of the punishment will be deserved. But in the end eliminating bounties will have little to no effect on how hard players hit each other. They’ll just find a different way to recognize them in front of their teammates. Maybe they could give them a sticker.