Poppinga lashes out at Williams

BY Alex Marvez • March 8, 2012

Gregg Williams is technically St. Louis Rams linebacker Brady Poppinga's defensive coordinator for at least a few more days.

This didn't keep Poppinga from ripping Williams for orchestrating a bounty program while with the New Orleans Saints.

Poppinga feels that strongly about a system the seven-year NFL veteran described as "degrading," "animalistic" and "repulsive" during a Thursday interview with FOXSports.com.

"I just can't sit there and be silent," Poppinga said. "I look at this as an opportunity to share with the public that we, as football players, are not barbaric and out to try and destroy everything in our path. Football is my profession and I take it seriously. It's an art form. It's technical, strategic and takes a lot of intelligence to play.

"When this came out, it started to confirm the idea that football guys are idiots. That's not who we are. Ninety-five percent of the guys are very intelligent. It's just guys who love to go out and play a physical game."

Poppinga admits to having knowledge about under-the-table incentive programs on other NFL defenses. But, in his view, what the Saints did — offering financial rewards for such things as damaging blows and opponent removal on a cart — went way too far.

"I've heard of other situations where there wasn't a bounty for hurting a guy, but guys throwing in $500 to all of the defense if they held a guy like (Minnesota running back) Adrian Peterson to less than 100 yards," said Poppinga, who played with Green Bay from 2005 to '10. "But it was nothing like where there was actual programming for that and you talk about (injuring opponents)."

Williams is still listed as a Rams coach, but his employment status is tenuous. He's facing a lengthy NFL suspension for allegedly running a bounty program in New Orleans from 2009 to '11.

The pool for big hits and the like reportedly reached $50,000 at one point. Shots on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, who was once a Poppinga teammate in Green Bay, seemed especially egregious during the Saints' NFC Championship Game victory in January 2010. But there wasn't definitive proof something was amiss until last Friday when the league announced findings of a major investigation by the NFL's security department.

Like Williams, New Orleans head coach Sean Peyton, general manager Mickey Loomis and participating players face fines and suspensions for their alleged involvement. The Saints also are bracing for a fine and stripping of draft picks. FOXSports.com NFL insider Jay Glazer first reported that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to levy his punishment before the league's annual owners meeting March 25-28 in Palm Beach, Fla.

Poppinga said fellow linebacker James Laurinaitis is the only teammate he has spoken with about Williams. (Laurinaitis "knows the (bounty system) is pretty dumb," Poppinga said.) As a pending free agent, Poppinga knows speaking out against Williams — who was new Rams head coach Jeff Fisher's handpicked coordinator — likely lessens his chances of re-signing.

He doesn't care.

"If they're not going to want me on the team because of that, that's fine," said Poppinga, who had 51 tackles and one forced fumble in 12 starts last season. "It is what it is."

While critical of Williams, Poppinga admits there was a time when he shared a similar mind-set. Poppinga once held scant regard for the physical well-being of opponents he matched up against in high school and college.

That included his own brother, Casey.

Brady Poppinga said the two had such a strong sibling rivalry that games of one-on-one basketball and even checkers would inevitably devolve into fisticuffs.

"We would just catch each other's eye and competitive juices would start to flow and we would fight," said Brady, who is two years younger than Casey. "My dad got so tired of it. He would send me to one room and Casey to a room on the other side of the house."

The rivalry reached a peak in 2001 when Brady's college team (Brigham Young) played Casey's (Utah State). The two went head-to-head with Casey at tight end and Brady at linebacker.

Rather than celebrate the fact that two of their offspring had made it to Division I programs, Poppinga's parents braced for the worst.

"It had turned into a complete mess," Brady said. "My family didn't know what to say or do. My wife told me that during the game my mom and dad didn't say a word. They were so nervous that he and I, in the middle of a play, were going to try and kill each other."

Brady and Casey instead surprised their parents by keeping tempers in check.

"We had grown up to the point where we could have a healthy perspective on football," Brady said. "We could go against each other as hard as we could and do it in a way that respected one another. At the end of the game, it was very emotional. Instead of fighting, we came up gave each other a hug.

"That's how it's supposed to be."

Poppinga feels so strongly about the subject that he is writing a book tentatively titled, "The True Spirit of Competition." Poppinga is soliciting publishers and hopes to have the work completed by year's end.

Judging by how dismayed Poppinga is by the bounty scandal and the damage it caused the NFL's image, don't be surprised if Williams gets sent an autographed copy.

"It's a huge problem in society not knowing how to compete with the right perspective," Poppinga said. "That's what my message is about. I hope I can motivate people to think about taking a step back and trying to use competition for a greater purpose of self improvement. When you handle competition in the right way — win, lose or draw — it really brings out your best.

"There are so many valuable lessons that can transcend sports and spill over into other aspects of life. But if you cross that line, especially like the Saints' bounty system, you completely compromise that. It becomes the opposite. Instead of being beneficial, it becomes detrimental to those involved. No one comes out on top. And at the end of the day, the collateral damage caused by the attention the Saints are receiving goes far and wide."