I’d be lying to all of you if I proclaimed that the bounties that are being reported for knocking players out of NFL games is shocking or even all that bothersome. In fact, it is so unsurprising that I am a little bit shocked it has come up and become an actual issue to the extent that it is the last few days. Is it wrong? Yeah. Of course it is. I hate to see guys get knocked out of games. Ultimately it just doesn’t seem like something that was causing big, bad defensive players to do anything that they wouldn’t have been trying to do anyway.
The hit on Kurt Warner by Bobby McCray does in fact look worse once you find out about the bounty program allegedly in place at the time. It does seem a bit dirtier knowing that McCray might have gained financially from the hit. Does it really matter that he got paid though? It was a vicious hit regardless and the real problem in my mind were the rules and the way that Gregg Williams was coaching his guys.
Plays like that were reflective of a culture that the NFL has been working to change over the last few years. Attempting to behead a player that isn’t looking isn’t allowed anymore. Exhibit A is that players like James Harrison are made examples when they launch themselves into quarterbacks like missiles.
Only in that hindsight knowing about the new rules am I upset about them. You don’t look back in time and get furious that people smoked around you in bars because the rules changed and now it is illegal. Similarly you can’t go back to a time before the rules were put in place and get all hot and bothered that a team was looking to knock people out of the game.
That was standard operating procedure in a game we have all loved for years. Even those of us who weren’t alive for the Turkey Jones suplex of Terry Bradshaw have a fond appreciation for it today. That doesn’t mean we would be alright with Phil Taylor doing it to Ben Roethlisberger. It might seem like fun, but the penalties and embarrassment to the Browns wouldn’t be worth it now. Remember how silly Steelers fans looked this year trying to defend James Harrison’s hit on Colt McCoy?
Things have changed and that means for things going forward. If you need to look back and agree that things came to a head, then I think that is appropriate. Kurt Warner weighed in on the topic last week.
“I don’t think this is unique. It may be unique in extent to the money or if coaches were involved. I understand they were levying a bounty. But were they going out and cheap shotting guys? That is something I would definitely look into.”
Warner called Saints defensive end Bobby McCray’s vicious, 2009 postseason hit against him “clean” and said the legal hit put “a nice exclamation point” on his pre-determined decision to retire Jan. 29, 2010. But he said Friday’s revelation about the Saints bounty program in which players were rewarded for knockout hits was most upsetting to his wife and seven children.
Seems about right. It is upsetting and that’s why things had to change. To pretend that it is surprising is revisionist history at best and moral grandstanding at worst. It was wrong. It was illegal. It is an indication of just how broken the system was, but it isn’t at all surprising because of the violent nature of NFL football. There will always be incentive for teams to make violent, hard, legal hits on offensive playmakers, especially quarterbacks.
The system needed to put some restraint on those goals and it did by redefining what hits were legal. The money in a bounty system makes a little bit worse, but not much. The money just helped reinforce the culture that was alive and well in the league anyway.
(Photo Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)