Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton has plenty of opinions. Plenty of strong opinions. And he has some of his strongest opinions yet regarding one of the biggest scandals the league has ever seen.
“He should be banned, forever,” Tarkenton recently told ESPN 1000 in Chicago (via SportsRadioInterviews.com) regarding former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. “He ought to be convicted. He ought to go to prison. This is criminal behavior. I think the lawsuits that will come out of this will absolutely be staggering because if you’re Brett Favre, if you’re Kurt Warner, if you’re the tight end up there in San Francisco, Vernon Davis, if you’re [Michael] Crabtree, if you’re Frank Gore, don’t you think their lawyers are talking to them today saying, ‘We got a lawsuit here?’”
It’s all a little extreme, especially since there’s no evidence that the intent ever resulted in serious injury — and especially since bounties apparently have been part of the game for a long time. Peter King recently recounted an NFL Films production (aired on, coincidentally, NFL Network) in which ’50s-era 49ers linebacker Hardy Brown claims, in matter-of-fact fashion, that the Rams had a $500 bounty on Brown. Last month, the son of former NFL defensive end Don Joyce (who played with Tarkenton during his rookie season of 1961), said that the Rams also had a bounty on him in the 1950s.
“In 1954, the Los Angeles Rams had a $100 bounty on my dad for anyone who could knock him out of the game,” Don Joyce Jr. said. “My dad warned the player, Les Richter, that he’d rip his head off. It happened again, and my dad ripped the guy’s helmet off and beat him with it.”
It doesn’t mean that players in the ’50 and ’60s constantly tried to injure each other; indeed, at pages 212-13 of the timeless 1967 diary of Packers guard Jerry Kramer, Instant Replay, Kramer explains that tackle Forrest Gregg decided against attacking the bad knees of Vikings defensive end Carl Eller. “He’s a helluva guy,” Gregg said of Eller. “He’s such a good clean competitor I wouldn’t do anything like that.”
But plenty of guys apparently would, and plenty of guys apparently have. Though it doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t necessarily make it criminal. It makes it an example of the dark side of football. Though the Saints’ situation may result in fewer people openly discussing the fact that there’s a benefit to knocking opposing players out of the game and offering cash as an incentive to do so, it may not wipe the concept out of the sport.