During his NFL career, Doug Plank suffered multiple concussions — they didn’t really count them back then — five knee surgeries and a spinal concussion that left his left leg partially numb in retirement. He might have played longer than eight seasons, but, as he said, “I made 100 tackles per season. That’s like 800 train wrecks.”
This is what Doug Plank, one of the tougher men ever to play football, the guy for whom the Chicago Bears’ famous “46 defense” was named, thinks of the New Orleans Saints reportedly putting bounties on players.
“I can’t believe a coach, a team or an organization would stand behind that policy,” he said. “For a coach to even address something like that with players, like, ‘This is a person we can remove from the game,’ that puts you on pretty thin ice. If this is true, when you make a decision [on discipline], you have to understand that actions like that affect all the people in this business. It needs to be something that says, ‘This will not be accepted.’”
When the NFL disclosed Friday, in alarming detail and transparency, that the New Orleans Saints maintained a “bounty” program for three seasons, involving “22 to 27 defensive players” and “at least one assistant coach,” I was initially underwhelmed. We celebrate violence in football, at all levels. The bigger hit, the better.
But there’s a difference between rewarding an athlete for an unscripted play and a premeditated assault. Yes, football is a brutal and physical game. Players generally fall into one of three categories: 1) A little crazy; 2) A lot crazy; 3) Waived. But that doesn’t excuse New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for basically pinning a poster to a locker-room wall, reading, “WANTED: Kurt Warner. Maimed. Reward: $10,000.”
Warner and Brett Favre were two of the players identified in the report as targets. Allegations were initially investigated in 2010 but were denied and couldn’t be proved. New information led to the investigation being reopened in 2011.
The NFL’s statement reads like a federal indictment, with bullet points on “payments for cart-offs,” funding practices and the damning actions of general manager Mickey Loomis.
If there is a line between the NFL being controlled or barbaric, the Saints crossed it. Williams and coach Sean Payton should be suspended for a season. Loomis, who may have lied to both his owner and the NFL, should be out of a job. The team should, and will, lose draft picks. The punishment needs to hurt.
Former Georgia defensive end and Cincinnati Bengals linebacker David Pollack goes even further.
“If it’s true that [Williams] paid for Warner and Favre’s injuries for late hits, we need to talk about permanent bans,” he said.
Those trivializing this as some boys-will-be-boys offense are missing the point. This goes beyond cheating, like “Spygate.” We’re talking about people’s careers and lives.
It’s significant that even Williams admitted, “It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it.”
Suddenly, he doesn’t seem so tough.
Plank, former Georgia Force coach and now the Arena league coach in Philadelphia, played for defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan in Chicago. Ryan was alleged to have put bounties on Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman and kicker Luis Zendejas when he coached the Eagles. But Plank said he wasn’t aware of any coach-run bounty system in Chicago, and when he played (1975-82) players didn’t make enough to fund such a system.
“When I played, you got rewarded for the big hit or big play of the game,” he said. “At Ohio State, it was called the ‘Jack Tatum Hit of the Game.’ In Chicago if you made a big play I think they gave you a dinner for two. But that was after the fact. What we’re talking about in New Orleans is more in advance. Buddy didn’t stand in front of a room while we were watching film and say, ‘This guy has to go down.’”
Williams did as much. He admits it.
Commissioner Roger Goodell will swing a sledgehammer. Bounty rules, he said, ensure “player safety and competitive integrity.”
Everything else is window dressing.
By Jeff Schultz