This week, an audio recording of New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams speaking with his defensive squad was released to the media. It took place in the visitors' locker-room on the day before the NFC Division playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers on January 13, 2012.
Greg Williams (alias The Jerk)
That game was won by the 49ers, 36-32, on the final play of regulation, with less than 11 seconds to play, on a pass from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis. In a game the 49ers needed to score to win, they did just that.
Now, three months later, we get a fly-on-the-wall report of just what the Saints management was thinking before the game.
The Saints had become a cocky team over the last several years. The team won the 2009 SuperBowl, capping a highly successful season. In 2010, they were eliminated in the play-offs. In 2011, despite three losses, the team seemed headed for another championship. Their talented quarterback, Drew Brees, was having a record season, throwing for 46 touchdowns and 5476 yards. Few imagined that the upstart 49ers, of all teams, might have the character to upset them.
The mood of the Saints players and coaches was triumphant, and bullish. They were known to play hard, and to play rough.
But let's put this all in context. Football is a rough game, and has always been so. In the early decades, there were few protections, and players could expect to suffer every kind of severe injury. Players in locker-rooms after games might resemble prize-fighters, their faces and hands bloodied, their bodies bruised from head to toes. As the decades wore on, equipment was improved, and rules were adopted to prevent the head-hunting and dangerous hits of the past. But the speed and strength and agility of the modern athlete guarantee that no matter how much padding and plastic is worn, no matter how many fouls and penalties are imposed for dirty play, participants are going to get hurt, often severely. Accidents and injuries in high school, college and professional football are inevitable.
In the old days, dirty play was tolerated, and even encouraged. A gladiator atmosphere was once common in the locker-rooms, and on the field of play. In the fast-moving melee of clogged line play, one player might deliberately hit a man's leg from the side, causing irreparable damage to the knee-joint. A player might deliberately "spear" another player with his helmet, a maneuver as dangerous sometimes to the player doing it, as the victim on the receiving end.
A good deal of attention has been paid lately to the growing awareness of brain syndrome suffered by football players in the years after they've retired. It's becoming increasingly clear that repeated blows to the head, over time, will usually lead to some kind of damage, often of a severe nature.
In the context of this growing awareness of the jeopardy in which professional football players place themselves, it seems astonishing that the old spirit of dirty play should still be promulgated among the coaching staffs of some professional teams.
Some weeks ago, the news broke that the Saints coaching staff had set up a system of "bounties and rewards" for causing injury to opposing players. The League acted swiftly to suspend the head coach, the Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams, and to penalize the team by taking away two of its high picks in the college draft. There were pathetic cries for mercy by Saints' team officials, and fans circled the wagons to defend their beloved heroes in the Big Easy.
Then Williams's audio hit the media. Suddenly, in living high fidelity, the ugly truth was out there for everyone to hear--recorded by a documentarian who'd been following one of the Saints staff during the season. I encourage you to listen to the full speech Williams gave to his men in the 15 minute recording, which is available on several versions on YouTube, as elsewhere.
It's filled with expletives, and a lot of gruff macho earnestness, as Williams exhorts his boys to take out key players on the 49ers offense.
On Frank Gore: "Kill Frank Gore's head."
On Alex Smith: "Every single one of you, before you get off the pile . . . hit the head."
On Crabtree: " We fuckin' take out that outside ACL [anterior cruciate ligament]."
On Vernon Davis: " We need . . . [to] fuckin' put [his] ankles over the pile."
"We don't fuckin' apologize with how we're goin' to play. You're here for a reason. NFL's a production business. Kill the head and the body'll die. We're goin' to knock that motherfucker on the sidelines. Who are ya'?--production. It's a production business. We goin' to 'tarantula strike'em til their head bleeds. So lay that motherfucker out. We're goin' to kill the fuckin' head. Affect the head. We break their will. We don't break their skill. We break their will, and they'll run and hide. Whatever it takes. Get ready for the next one. Respect comes from fear. When they fear us, they'll give us the ball. We don't apologize."
Following the above speech, Williams proceeded to hand out envelopes of cash, presumably for dirty plays accomplished in the previous week's game (against the Detroit Lions).
If the NFL League office has any credibility, the entire coaching staff for the Saints should be permanently banned from participation. The team should be suspended for an entire year (2012). Players on the team who want to sign with other teams, should be released from their contracts.
This should put paid to any talk of a Saints "dynasty." The Saints were a talented team, and their players deserved better.
Of course, all this will be quickly forgotten, and business as usual will resume after a couple of years.
But maybe, in this age of portable recording devices, behavior like this will be harder to conceal. People now carrying these little phones and computers will be like spies wearing "wires" too unobtrusive to notice. More powerful than carrying guns, they'll be one way to keep people in positions of authority on notice, whatever you say "in private" may end up being broadcast in public.