Bountygate: the worst scandal in NFL history


The 2009 New Orleans Saints is regarded by many of their fans as the greatest team they’ve ever had.

Led by future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, and by head coach Sean Payton, the team went on a  thirteen game winning streak to start the season and didn’t lose its first game until a bye was clinched in the playoffs. That regular season, the team posted a final record of 13-3 to clinch the #1 seed in the playoffs. In its opening game of the post-season, the team defeated the Arizona Cardinals 45-14 in what would be the final game of longtime quarterback Kurt Warner. With this win, the Saints advanced to the NFC Championship game. In that game, the Minnesota Vikings, led by quarterback Brett Favre, were defeated 31-28 in overtime.

During that game, many noticed, especially players and staff on the Vikings, that the Saints were being excessively rough. One play in particular involving Saints defensive linemen, Bobby McCray and Remi Ayodele, saw them knock Favre down with a high-low hit. Hitting his knees, Favre was briefly ruled out of the game. Despite that, no one thought anything of it, and the Saints advanced to the Super Bowl where they would defeat reigning NFL MVP Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts to become Super Bowl Champions for the first time in Saints history.

With an absolutely magical season, it seemed like the Saints had a season that would go down into the record books as the one of greatest seasons in NFL history. Little did the public know at the time that the Saints had numerous skeletons in their closet.

In the year 2011, a former Saints staff member called the NFL regarding a bounty program in the 2009 Saints season. Following an investigation, the NFL received what it called “significant and credible new information” that suggested that there was a bounty program in place that season. On March 2nd, 2012, it was announced that investigators did in fact find evidence that the Saints players and coaches were running a bounty program.

Dating back to the 2009 season, Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, had initiated the program to try to improve the defense, which involved Saints players betting on which players would knock out specifically named opposing players in the upcoming game. The NFL investigators also revealed that the Saints players were targeting Kurt Warner and Brett Favre during the 2009 postseason. Not only that, but it was also revealed that Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and Panthers quarterback, Cam Newton, were considered “targets” during the 2011 season.

After many teams recalled this type of behavior from the Saints, Williams, who was no longer with the team, was summoned to the NFL headquarters. After he initially denied all allegations, he recanted and admitted to everything he was accused of. What followed is still considered some of the harshest penalties the NFL has ever handed down.

Gregg Williams was suspended immediately and could not ask for reinstatement in to the league until the end of the 2012 NFL season. Sean Payton, still Saints head coach of the Saints at the time, was suspended for the entire 2012 season; he became the first coach in modern NFL history to be suspended for any reason. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, was suspended the first eight games of the 2012 season. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who was considered to be a replacement for Payton after his suspension, was suspended for the first six games of the 2012 season. Penalties were also placed on the Saints players, but those penalties were eventually reversed because it was believed that the Saints organization and coaching was more responsible than the players were for the crimes that were commited.

The Saints finished with a 7-9 record in 2012 while breaking the record for the most yards given up by a defense (7,042 yards). Sean Payton returned to his position the following year.

Across every scandal in NFL history, this one is the worst by far. Deflategate and Spygate may have definitely rocked the NFL, but no players were harmed or seriously injured in those scandals. In the Bountygate scandal, careers could have ended, injuries were prevalent, and the lives of those whom were targeted could have been negatively impacted for good. It just goes to show that anyone will do whatever it take to get a Super Bowl ring and tens of thousands of dollars.