Two prominent members of the Cleveland Browns are tied to the bounty scandal that has the league investigating coach Gregg Williams and the New Orleans Saints.
One has been silent on the matter, the other prefers not to look back.
Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress may have had as much to lose as anyone in the Saints scandal. Childress was coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 2009, and that team had Brett Favre in one of his finest seasons at quarterback in the NFC Championship Game.
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The Saints won, but the league has since revealed it did so within the confines of a bounty system that rewarded players with cash payments for injuring the main players on the opposing team. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma reportedly offered $10,000 to any teammate who knocked Favre out of the game. And Favre almost did not finish due to several questionable hits — one that left him with a serious ankle injury.
Childress, though, declined to wade into what could be the league’s most significant scandal in years. Reached by phone through the Browns, Childress simply said: “It’s a league matter and they handled it. That’s about it. This is such a forward-looking business, you know?”
Childress maintained his no-comment stance through several questions, including when it was mentioned to him that in the past he had gone on record saying he believed the Saints were intentionally trying to hurt Favre.
“I just wasn’t happy with the result of the game,” Childress said. “The league dealt with it. They did what they needed to do.”
The league is expected to announce punishments, which could be severe, in the next few weeks. Commissioner Roger Goodell released information on the system — sanctioned, run and admitted to by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams — last week. Williams apologized, and said he should have stopped the practice. Since the league’s report, though, the Washington Post and Buffalo News said Williams had similar programs in place when he was defensive coordinator and coach of the Redskins and Bills.
The case could be made that the Saints went to the Super Bowl in 2010 because of their bounty system. Early in the NFC Championship Game, Saints defensive lineman Bobby McCray was flagged for hitting Favre in the jaw following a handoff (!). Later, a high-low hit on Favre from McCray and Remi Ayodele severely damaged Favre’s ankle (He told SI.com he thought it was broken.) Several other late and questionable hits took place.
As the game wound down, Minnesota had the ball, driving for a game-winning field goal. The Vikings called a pass on a key play from the New Orleans 38 with 19 seconds left. Favre dropped back, found no one open and had room to run to the sideline for seven or eight key yards.
Except he couldn’t run. His ankle was too bad, and it was caused by a hit that seemed at best borderline — and now seems to have been fueled by an illegal system. Instead, Favre threw across his body and was intercepted. That play allowed the Saints to win in overtime.
It also effectively ended the Vikings’ chances with Favre. In 2009, he was excellent, starting 16 game and throwing 33 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. In 2010, he waffled on playing and didn’t return until Childress sent two veteran players on a private plane to Mississippi to bring him back to Minnesota.
He came back, but the mojo was gone. Favre struggled, was injured and had 19 interceptions compared to 17 touchdowns. Childress was fired after 10 games.
The case could be made that Minnesota’s Super Bowl appearance, and Childress’ job, were directly affected by the bounty system. Because if not for questionable hits stemming from an illegal system, Favre might not have been hurt. Had he not been hurt, the Vikings might have won. It’s a question that Goodell will consider as he decides what punishment to enact.
Childress sounds like he’d rather forget.
“I’d rather not go back and revisit all that,” he said.
Browns linebacker Scott Fujita played on the Saints in 2009. He has been critical of Goodell, and has been outspoken in terms of protecting player safety as a member of the Executive Committee of the NFL Players Association. Now comes word that he played for a team that sanctioned a program that broke NFL rules, and violated the spirit of competition by intentionally trying to injure opposing players.
Fujita has not commented since the NFL released information on the Saints.
Browns safety Usama Young also played for the Saints form 2007-2010. He, too, has not commented.