The recent developments about the New Orleans Saints offering cash bounties to take players out of games have a lot of people revisiting the 2009 NFC Championship Game. But with or without the bounties, the Minnesota Vikings still have nobody to blame but themselves for that loss.
If you have turned on any sports program or read any sports websites in the past few days, there's no doubt that you've heard about the NFL investigation that's about to lead to some very heavy sanctions to the New Orleans Saints and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The coach had installed a bounty program intended to reward his charges for taking opposing players out of games. There are three facts about this story that most logical fans won't argue with, so we won't debate it in this space either:
- The act of rewarding your team to intentionally knock opponents out of games is pretty damn deplorable. The fact that one of the main coaches of a team not only knew about it but facilitated it is even worse. There's no excuse for what Gregg Williams did. Most NFL insiders (especially Sports Illustrated's Peter King) think that Roger Goodell is going to come down hard on all parties involved, and he should. While the game of football is inherently violent, it should never reward players for injuring others.
- Gregg Williams was the first one to get busted for such a program, but it's very naive to think that he was the only one that did it. Many players have already come out admitting that their teams had bounty programs of varying degrees and there are likely many more that haven't been made public. (Note: Most reports on bounties from players have been decidedly less extreme than Williams' program, but that might be more of the players covering their butts than giving the full truth.)
- Calling this thing "BountyGate" is stupid. In fact, calling scandals of any variety "____Gate" is extremely played out, lazy, and unimaginative. Deadspin has been calling it "Scrutiny on the Bounty", which is pretty solid. If you're going to talk about something ad nauseum for days on end, at least give it a creative name.
But with those facts aside, there has still been plenty to argue over when it comes to the bounty story. In Minnesota, most of the focus leads back to the 2009 NFC Championship Game. Most Minnesota Vikings fans will recall -- with utter disdain -- that Brett Favre was beaten to an absolute pulp throughout that game whether he had the ball or not. The Saints were called for a few malicious hits and they got away with even more. Shortly after the game, the color of Favre's leg resembled that of his helmet thanks to the beating the Saints defense delivered.
Now that the bounty news is out, lots of NFL fans think that the Saints' 2009 Super Bowl run is now tainted in some way. No fans feel stronger about adding an asterisk to that title than fans of the Vikings. Many think that if the Saints weren't being financially rewarded for trying to take Favre out, the result of that NFC Championship Game would have been different.
This writer is not one of those people.
Listen--as a Vikings fan, you can be upset with the referees letting the Saints get away with some cheap shots. You can be furious that the Vikings gave the ball away five times in a game they could have easily won. You can be livid that the NFL didn't implement their new overtime rules until after that season, meaning the Vikings never touched the ball in the extra session. But getting mad about this new information in regards to a game that happened over two years ago is simply misdirected anger.
As it was stated earlier, it's silly to think that the Saints were the only team that has employed such a system. Isn't it also kind of silly to think that with a Super Bowl berth on the line that an extra few thousand bucks would motivate wealthy football players to play any differently? If you were ticked off about the Saints' hits during that game, that's definitely justifiable. But the fact that there were bounties behind those hits shouldn't cause this brand new wave of disdain and it certainly shouldn't lead you to believe that it changed the fortunes of the two teams.
Brett Favre himself told Peter King that "In all honesty, there's a bounty of some kind on you on every play" and "the only thing that really pisses me off about the whole thing is we lost the game." Exactly. Opposing defenses are always going to go after the quarterback, and the Vikings literally dropped the ball on way too many occasions to win that night.
Some of the hits by New Orleans players on that fateful evening ranged from "questionable" to "flat out dirty" depending on who you ask. But the bottom line is that the Vikings lost the game, bounties or no bounties. The only way that this story really affects the Vikings is that their fans have to relive one of the most painful losses in franchise history.