This Day In Sports: NFL hits the Saints hard for ‘Bountygate’

March 22, 2012, 10 years ago today: Commissioner Roger Goodell hands out the stiffest punishments in NFL history over the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program. Coach Sean Payton was suspended for a year, and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who had moved on to the St. Louis Rams, was suspended indefinitely. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant head coach Joe Vitt received shorter suspensions. New Orleans also forfeited second round draft picks for two years. The Saints were found to have operated an elaborate scheme that awarded bounties to defensive players for hits on quarterbacks, including Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Kurt Warner and Cam Newton.

The “Bountygate” pool was said to be operating between 2009 and 2011 (the Saints won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season). The flash point of the NFL’s investigation was the 2009 NFC Championship Game, when Saints defenders repeatedly went after Favre, then the quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota coach Brad Childress cited 13 instances where he said the Saints were deliberately trying to knock Favre out of the game. That inspired the Arizona Cardinals to review their loss to the Saints in the divisional playoffs the previous week, and they felt Warner was being targeted the same way.

A whistleblower exposed the scheme during the 2010 offseason, amd the NFL began looking into the allegations. But the investigation bogged down—and was stalled until late in 2011. That’s when things got serious. Four New Orleans players were also suspended six weeks later but were soon reinstated. Payton returned in 2013 and would lead the Saints to five more playoff spots before retiring at the end of the 2021 season.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

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