The Saints Did In Fact Strategize to Injure Favre (I told you so)

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On January 29th, 2010, I wrote:

I do not appreciate the fact that the New Orleans Saints defense, when playing the superior Minnesota Vikings, clearly designed, practiced, and successfully implemented a strategy that if adopted by other teams and not stopped by new rules, will change the way the sport is played forever. During the playoff game with the Vikings, the Saints’ defense got through the Vikings’ defensive line and knocked down the quarterback something like 19 times. Not sacked. They knocked him down after he had thrown or passed off the ball. One time there was a penalty, and the commentators covering the game claimed that penalty was not appropriate.

In other words, the Saints figured out a way of physically hitting the QB after he let go of the ball without it being a penalty. They did it enough times to injure and disorient Brett Favre. In my view, two or three of the plays late in the game would likely not have gone the way they went had Favre not been injured in this way. The Saints probably won the game by using this new technique.

Ethan Siegel disagreed. He said:

The Colts have a much better O-line than the Vikes. You might not like your QB getting hit after the ball is thrown, but it’s your linemen’s jobs to protect him, not the officials’.

José said:

It’s not some new strategy developed by the Saints. It’s the strategy that’s used by every single team in every single game. The Vikings were trying to do the exact same thing to Drew Brees. They just weren’t as successful. There’s even a stat called “knockdowns” which records legal hits on a quarterback made after he’s released the ball.

No one is saying the strategy doesn’t exist. We’re saying that it is the strategy that is always used. It’s just a normal part of a brutal sport. Try and find an article that suggests that the Saints tactics could change the way the game will be played.

Jared said:

How closely, exactly, did you watch the game?
Favre got rid of the ball early many times because he was about to be tackled. The Saints didn’t get sacks because he’s a good quarterback and was throwing the ball before someone got to him (often away). It’s not a “new strategy.”

Brian said:

Greg, apparently in your rush to expose the “virtually unprecedented” strategy of the Saints by linking to a news story wherein they promise to give Peyton some “remember-me” shots, you failed to read just one paragraph further.
[i]”We hear it all the time,” left guard Ryan Lilja said Friday. “The teams in our division go out and draft guys for that reason. You hear rumors about bounties and that kind of stuff, so it’s nothing new.”[/i]
Whether wrong or right, it’s not something unprecedented.
And knockdowns are an unofficial stat, but they are considered by many when ranking defensive players (considered with sacks, hurries, etc.).

And there were other naysayers. Some commented here.

And they were all wrong. And I was all right.

From The Washington Post:

The NFL suspended New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton, General Manager Mickey Loomis and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams Wednesday for their roles in a bounty system that provided the team’s players payments for hits that injured opponents.

Williams was suspended indefinitely. Payton was suspended for one year, and Loomis was suspended for eight games…

The Saints were fined $500,000 and lose two second-round draft choices, one in this year’s draft and one in 2013…

Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt also was suspended for six games. …

The penalties are among the harshest in the sport’s history. …

“A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious,” Goodell added. “When there is targeting of players for injury and cash rewards over a three-year period, the involvement of the coaching staff and three years of denials and willful disrespect of the rules, a strong and lasting message must be sent that such conduct is totally unacceptable and has no place in the game.”

According to the NFL’s investigation, the fund reached as much as $50,000 or more and players were paid $1,500 for a hit that knocked an opponent from a game and $1,000 for a hit that led to an opposing player being helped off the field. Those amounts doubled or tripled for playoff games, according to the league’s investigation.

From MPR:

We knew it!

In the franchise-changing NFL National Conference championship game in 2010, many thought the New Orleans Saints were playing dirty and out to injure people, particularly then-Vikings-QB Brett Favre. Now we know the truth. They were.

Today, the National Football League revealed results of an investigation into a “bounty program” the Saints had that paid players for injuring the competition.

It said between 22 and 27 defensive players and at least one assistant coach were involved and that the payouts to players reached a high of $50,000 during the playoffs that year.

What needs to happen now is obvious, isn’t it? The Saints need to give up their Superbowl win. They cheated. They need to turn in their rings, and they need to be removed from play for a couple of years. Let the franchise die on the vine if that’s how it happens to turn out.

As I once said:

I did not appreciate the sentiment that the New York Yankees had to win the World Series because Osama Bin Laden blew up the World Trade Center. I do not appreciate the sentiment that the New Orleans Saints have to win the Super Bowl because George Bush let poor New Orleans residents die in the Super Dome. …

I do not appreciate the idea that gay-dating ads will be banned from the Super Bowl but anti-abortion ads, I hear, will be shown.

Maybe we should just skip football entirely this year. Forever even.

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In Search of Sungudogo by Greg Laden, now in Kindle or Paperback
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18 thoughts on “The Saints Did In Fact Strategize to Injure Favre (I told you so)

  1. They neither cheated nor used a new strategy.

    The NFL found fault with incentivizing players for causing injuries, and the message is a moral one and not a procedural one.

  2. They cheated, they used a new strategy, this is now documented, and I expect a Grand Jury to convenient at some point. This is a legal issue.

  3. The sport, as it’s played correctly, leads to serious chronic health problems in middle age for a majority of former players. I’ve been a fan for twenty years or so, but really, the science is in, and we shouldn’t need a scandal for football to be on its way out.

    I gotta add, though, that the amateur economist in me bristles in me at the pretense behind punishing the explicit bounty system, namely that an implicit system of rewards (playing time, starting position, eventual contract extension and salary increase) wasn’t already in place to encourage injury-causing play.

  4. But there is no contextt in which paying to debilitate another player or being paid to do so is not a very serious felony.

  5. Wow….”poor New Orleans residents die….”…such a wonderful human being….only 2 of your 19 hits on Farve were defined and fined as illegal….3 were considered excessive and players were fined….heard of double jeopardy if they fine them again…which is likely why they haven’t. Hits on Warner were LEGAL…its football suppose to be brutal….the only disguisting things is that everyone acts like other teams don’t do it….wow…wake up to reality already!Sure Gregg Williams should have not participated…so punish him…you’ve already heard the interviews of other players knowing that this exist in many teams and has for years… think Gregg Williams just made this stuf up the last 3 years he was will the Saints….doubt it!

  6. Oh good grief! Stop whining!

    If you’re going to watch/play a “sport” in which physical assaults are an integral part then expect teams to offer incentives to, and to use strategies that, achieve maximum (game/season/career long?) results from those assaults. Hell, you might as well condemn boxers and their trainers for their attempts to concuss the other boxer.

    The players of North American rules football are coddled enough (armoured for protection; rests after every 20 second play; sitting on a bench for half the game &c.). Are you proposing another layer of protection for the poor quarterbacks? Perhaps a “wah-wah-wah” 5yd penalty signaled by the head zebra rubbing his eyes? No problem, that will only add another 5 minutes to an already interminably boring game – enough time for 2 or 3 more paid adverts.

  7. Here’s the thing problem that I have with your interpretation. According to what you link:

    …a bounty system that provided the team’s players payments for hits that injured opponents.

    and MPR reacts with

    many thought the New Orleans Saints were playing dirty and out to injure people, particularly then-Vikings-QB Brett Favre.

    Now, I see that the bounty system gives players an incentive to injure opponents and this has no place in any game and the Saints deserved to be punished for it (even though the stories keep circulating that lots of teams do that and the Saints just did it more systematically but that alone merits punishment).
    But going from this incentive and its clear effects on the field to the claim of a “clearly designed, practiced, and successfully implemented…strategy” seems to be an overreach to me. And the difference between systematic bounties for injuries and training your defense actively in how to inflict injury while avoiding penalties should make for a difference in punishment.
    If the Saints won the super bowl because they motivated their players to injure opponents, anyone involved should be heavily fined and suspended. If they won the super bowl because they implemented a complete strategy that enabled their players to injure opponents while avoiding penalties, the super bowl should be voided, none of the coaches should work again in the NFL and this should maybe be treated as a crime.
    You argue for the latter but quote sources that allege the former.

  8. American football, like many other contact sports, is a form of ritual combat. In ritual combat, the forms must be obeyed, and one of those rules is that you do not attack your opponent in a way which is intended to injure him. Yes, injuries will sometimes happen. Yes, some players try to bend that rule, which is why there are penalties for flagrant fouls. Yes, the referees will sometimes not see a flagrant foul, or not notice that a foul is flagrant. But the rules are still in place: if you are caught committing a foul which is intended to injure your opponent, you should expect severe penalties.

    This is why a coach offering cash incentives is an affront to the game. That there have been other non-cash incentives on other teams (I will stipulate that this has happened) is irrelevant; it’s just that proving the intent of non-cash incentives is a lot harder.

    Had the Saints been pursuing the legitimate strategy of trying to tackle the quarterback before he throws the ball, that would be one thing. But that strategy ought to result in an occasional sack, even when the quarterback is as good as Favre, and the Saints were 0 for 19 on sacking Favre in that game. And unless the point is to injure the quarterback, a sack is a better result for the defense than knocking down the quarterback after he throws the ball (a sack results in a loss of yardage, and it avoids the risk of a completed forward pass).

  9. I agree with Greg. This crosses the line from playing football, a game with rules, to conspiracy to commit assault and battery.

    If money changed hands as a consequence of the assault and battery of opposing players, then there is a real crime.

    That this was done after crossing state lines and in multiple states makes it a federal case.

    Although each locality where games were played could prosecute it too. They could settle for a plea agreement of just a few million dollar fine.

    Individual players injured would also have a legal case against the franchise.

    Putting the franchise out of business is a good idea. Only if the owners can lose their investment will they supervise the franchise correctly.

  10. Martin: You seem to be saying that wearing helmets is coddling. According to the President of the American Sports Injury Whateverwhatever, who I heard on the radio last year, if an NFL season was played without helmets, there would be an average of one death per game, in his estimation.

    Have you seen the movie “rolerball” … that was not meant to be a suggestion for real life.

    Daedalus2u, I agree. Also, i’m going to spend some time with your paper next week after our upcoming political caucuses, which are taking much of my time now.

  11. Here’s a radical thought. Just stop feeding into the mania that is sports and athletes. Too much tv, culture, peoples’ lives revolves around various big-name sports—not doing the sports, but just watching. It is ridiculous that some ‘athletes’ are being paid gross amounts of money and people who are actually making a real contribution to society (researchers and scientists, for example) are paid relatively little.

    There was an episode of Sliders where they landed on an earth where bright people were the superstars, not athletes. Sigh. Yeah, far-fetched sci-fi indeed.

  12. @Greg #13:

    Yes, helmets are coddling. As is all the armour.

    Have you ever played/watched Rugby football (League and/or Union)? Australian football? Both sports are arguably more violent than North American football (play and player contact continues with ball on the ground, restart possession is heavily contested[line outs/scrums – mainly Union]). And yet, you don’t see armour and helmets on those players (from school 15s to international teams), and you definitely don’t see “one death per game”. In 110 years (since the schism between league and union) there have been 71 rugby related deaths…and there are many more (many, many more) Rugby matches per year than football.

    One has to ask, why there was not “one death per game” in pre-gladiatoral outfits (1860 – 1910). Methinks your source is indulging in a little hyperbole.

    *I have no stats for Australian football.

  13. You were right, they were wrong. There is nothing wrong with being wrong from time to time. There is something very wrong with being unable to admit when you were wrong.

    This inability is the defining feature of the modern republican party.

  14. Martin, I totally disagree. It was not an off the cuff remark, he discussed it for some time and provided a convincing argument. American Football as it is played today is not like Rugby, older forms of football, or other sports with respect to a lot of important variables about how the plays work, what the players do, how big (and/or specialized) they are, etc. etc. I don’t think it was hyperoble.

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