Remember that tune "Who Let the Dogs Out?" How about a revised version: "Who Let The NFL Assassins Out?" The answer to that one is easy. We did. We fans did.
Last week, after a lengthy investigation, the NFL charged that the New Orleans Saints operate, against league rules, a bounty system, which pays defenders for hits that knock offensive stars out of games. So everybody is huffing and puffing with self-righteousness, aiming to blow down the culprits. Our stomachs are turned by the notion of NFL defensive players turned headhunters motivated by profit. Stocked by contributions from 25-30 players, the pool reportedly reached $50,000. Need some extra cash? If you played for the Saints you could make a few dollars by inflicting serious damage on some offensive star.
Sounds dirty, doesn't it? Well, it wouldn't be happening if so many of us weren't lusting for that extra dose of violence. It's what rabid fans want. It's what bettors want. If you've got money on the game and a QB is in the way, you want him mowed down. Say otherwise and you're not telling the truth. The Saints were just giving us what we wanted, and making a little cash on the side while doing it.
We like to think we're decent people and we don't want to see an enemy quarterback, running back or receiver maimed or knocked out for the season or, God forbid, for his career. But, on the other hand, we would like to see a star roughed up to the point were he's out for the game or unable to play at peak efficiency. Face it. In many of us there's a bloodthirsty streak that wants just that.
We're as guilty as the Saints.While they were in assassin mode, feathering their nests, they were simultaneously catering to our wishes. I admit it, mine too. I particularly recall that Vikings playoff game in early 2010 in which Saints' pass rushers beat the hell out of Minnesota QB Brett Farve. Though he stayed in the game, he was less effective after that unmerciful pounding. While wincing at those hits, I secretly cheered them. Why? Because I had a wager on the Saints to make it to the Super Bowl.
Were the Saints doing the right thing? Hell, no. But they were doing what millions of us wanted done, and doing it with our unofficial blessing. Those damn fools just made the mistake of getting caught.
By the way, the Saints are not alone. The bounty system is decades old. Defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan reportedly operated one in the heyday of the Chicago Bears in the mid 1980s. According to knowledgeable insiders, there are at least four other teams right now running bounty systems. Those culprits have been busily covering their tracks for months, hoping to elude persistent NFL investigators.
The Saints are waiting for the NFL to levy penalties, which should be severe. Will the punishment stop the bounties? Probably not. The brutal bounty system will just go farther underground and be protected more carefully. So, next season, when you see a QB take a particularly nasty hit or a wide receiver nearly beheaded trying to make a catch, think bounty. And if the victim is someone you'd like knocked out of the game, remember that body-rattling hit is also for you.