What Is Bountygate in NFL? When Saints Deliberately Hurt Vikings in 2009 for Victory Showing Darkest Side of Football

Uncover the shocking truth about Bountygate - the biggest NFL scandal that exposed the darkest side of pro football, where the Saints deliberately targeted and injured opponents for victory in 2009.

Dev
Written by Dev , Writer
Published on May 19, 2024 | 03:31 PM IST | 71.3K
Uncover the shocking truth about Bountygate - the biggest NFL scandal that exposed the darkest side of pro football.
Photo by Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images

In what is considered one of the biggest scandals in NFL history, the New Orleans Saints operated a shocking "bounty" system from 2009 to 2011, where players and coaches pooled money to offer cash rewards for deliberately injuring key opposing players. This sordid affair, known as "Bountygate," unveiled the darkest and most vicious side of professional football.

Vikings' Brett Favre was Targeted in 2009 NFC Championship Game

The catalyst for exposing Bountygate was the 2009 NFC Championship game, where the Saints defeated the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 in overtime. 

After the game, Vikings players, coaches, and officials accused Saints defenders of intentionally trying to hurt quarterback Brett Favre. 

Vikings coach Brad Childress counted at least 13 instances of such behavior, including a high-low hit on Favre by Bobby McCray and Remi Ayodele.

As revealed later, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma had offered a bounty of $10,000 to any player who knocked Favre out of that game. 

Payouts ranged from $100 for pinning a kick returner inside the 20-yard line to as much as $10,000 for knocking a player out of a playoff game.

Bounties Placed on Other Star QBs Like Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and More

The NFL's investigation found that Favre was not the only target. Bounties were also placed on other star quarterbacks like Kurt Warner (Cardinals), Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Cam Newton (Panthers), and Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks) during the 2009-2011 seasons. 

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It seemed no high-profile player was off-limits in this vicious scheme to gain a competitive edge by injuring opponents.

Ringleaders and Severe Punishments Handed Down

The ringleaders of Bountygate were identified as defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who administered the bounty system, and linebacker Jonathan Vilma. 

Saints head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis were also found complicit in covering up the scandal despite orders from team owner Tom Benson to shut it down.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down some of the harshest punishments in league history:

  • Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely (eligible to apply for reinstatement after 2012 season)
  • Sean Payton suspended for the entire 2012 season
  • Mickey Loomis suspended for first 8 games of 2012
  • Assistant coach Joe Vitt suspended for 6 games in 2012
  • Saints fined $500,000 and lost 2012 & 2013 2nd round draft picks
  • LB Jonathan Vilma was suspended for 2012 season (later overturned)
  • DT Anthony Hargrove was suspended 8 games
  • DE Will Smith was suspended 4 games
  • LB Scott Fujita was suspended 3 games
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The players' suspensions were eventually overturned by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who Goodell appointed to hear their appeals. However, the coaches' suspensions were upheld.

Damning Audio Exposes Gregg Williams' Disturbing Instructions

Filmmaker Sean Pamphilon uncovered and released audio of Williams' profanity-laden speech before a 2012 playoff game against the 49ers, where he explicitly instructed players to inflict injuries on specific opponents in shockingly blunt language. Some of his chilling quotes:

"Kill the head and the body will die. We've got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore's head. We want him running sideways. We want his head sideways."

"We hit f***in' Smith right there. (Points to chin) Remember me, I've got the first one, I've got the first one. (Rubs fingers for cash payment) Go lay that motherf***erout."

"Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head."

Williams even targeted players with past concussion issues, saying: "He becomes human when we f***in' take out that outside ACL."

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The audio sparked outrage, with some media members like Fox Sports' Mark Kriegel calling for Williams to be banned for life from the NFL.

Long History of Bounty Allegations Against Gregg Williams

While Williams avoided a lifetime ban, allegations of him running bounty programs dated back to his coaching stints with the Washington Redskins (2004-07) and Buffalo Bills (2001-03). 

Multiple former players from those teams accused Williams of similar bounty schemes in interviews with the Washington Post and Buffalo News respectively.

Williams claimed bounties were simply "part of the game", but many questioned why Goodell didn't make more of an example out of him to deter such behavior at youth and college levels.

A Stain on Saints' Legacy After Katrina Triumph

Bountygate cast a dark cloud over the Saints' organization and their fans, especially after the team's inspirational 2009 Super Bowl triumph following Hurricane Katrina's devastation in 2005. 

The scandal exposed the ugly underbelly of professional football, where players and coaches were willing to intentionally injure opponents for cash rewards and competitive advantage, disregarding the spirit of fair play and sportsmanship.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees denied any knowledge of the bounty system. However, evidence showed running back Reggie Bush's agent Michael Ornstein contributed money to the bounty pool on multiple occasions.

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While the Saints avoided the severely crippling punishments after the player suspensions were overturned, they still missed the playoffs in 2012 with a 7-9 record as assistant coach Joe Vitt served as interim head coach for Payton's suspended season.

As the biggest scandal in recent NFL history, Bountygate's impact will forever be a stain on the league's image and a sobering reminder of the dangers of unchecked aggression in sports.

ALSO READ: Meet NFL Legend, Who Served in Vietnam, Survived Bullet and Grenade Blast in the Leg to Win Super Bowl 4 Times

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About The Author
Dev
Dev
Writer

Devang Watkar aka Dev is a print and broadcast journalist with a relentless passion for storytelling. Known for a

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