|Brown on his Raiders: 'We wanted to be tough. ... But we didn't ever put a bounty on someone.' (US Presswire)|
NEW YORK -- In all likelihood, the New Orleans Saints will get whacked again this week by commissioner Roger Goodell, only this time it's the players involved in Bountygate who are likely to get hammered.
Some people think enough is enough and that Goodell should proceed to another subject, but they haven't met Willie Brown.
The former Oakland Raider and Hall of Fame cornerback was part of one of most menacing and intimidating defenses in NFL history, yet he stands behind what Goodell and the NFL are doing with ... and to ... the Saints in one of the ugliest scandals in league history.
"It's ridiculous that things like that can happen, where you put in money to hurt a player," said Brown, here this weekend to announce the Raiders' first pick of the 2012 NFL Draft. "There's no room for it in the National Football League, and there never should be."
When Brown played for the Raiders (1967-78) they were one of the most physical, most dominant, meanest, roughest, toughest defenses in football. Brown was an All-AFL and Pro Bowl cornerback who played in a backfield known as "The Soul Patrol," a secondary that included safeties Jack Tatum and George Atkinson and that inspired fear in anyone who dared to cross the middle of the field.
Tatum was known as "The Assassin." Atkinson was "The Hit Man." Cornerback Skip Thomas was "Dr. Death." And receivers weren't so much opponents who had to be stopped as targets to be erased.
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One of those targets was Pittsburgh Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann. In a September 1976 game vs. the Raiders, he took an Atkinson blow to the back of the head that sidelined him for two games with a concussion. The play, which officials did not see, provoked then-Steelers coach Chuck Noll to talk about "a criminal element" in the NFL and say that players like Atkinson "should be kicked out of the league."
It also provoked then-commissioner Pete Rozelle to review the incident and fire off a letter to Atkinson in which he said that "in 16 years in this office I do not recall a more flagrant foul than your clubbing the back of Swann's head totally away from the play."
Rozelle fined Atkinson $1,500 for his hit and Noll $1,000 for his remarks. Atkinson responded by charging Noll with slander and filing a $2 million lawsuit that was resolved with no slander, no malice and no damages to Atkinson.
Nevertheless, the point was made: The Oakland Raiders were more than just "innocent rogues," as their quarterback, Ken Stabler, described them. They were almost mythic figures who reveled in the violence of pro football and practiced it so well and so cavalierly that they were the subject of a book entitled Badasses by Peter Richmond.
Yeah, I would say that about describes them.
They hit hard. They hurt opponents. And they won a lot of games ... and you can say the same about those New Orleans Saints teams under NFL scrutiny. Where the two diverge, of course, was with bounties, and Brown shook his head at the mention of the practice.
"The difference is that we played by the rules," he said. "We didn't need to go out and put a bounty on a particular player because we felt if we wanted to get him, we could without anyone putting a bounty on the guy. Because that was our style. Rough and tough. We got it squared away. We never put a bounty on anybody. We never had to."
The Saints did, which is why we're having this conversation. They suffered fines, suspensions and losses of draft picks because their defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, and his players ran a program designed to pay players for injuring opponents -- with the league office identifying four quarterbacks who were targeted.
The Saints have been penalized once. But they're going to be penalized again, and Brown, for one, thinks they should.
"No question," he said, "the commissioner should respond to it. There's no place for that in the game, and players will learn that. When you try to hurt somebody you're talking about his career, and surely you don't want a guy losing a career with something like this. You try to play the game to win, but you try to play it within the rules, too.
"The emphasis today is getting better on trying to protect players. You hate to see someone play one or two years and he's out because of an injury. You wish nothing but the best for these players, and you hope they have long careers.
"We wanted to be tough. We wanted to be strong. We wanted to be the dominating team. That was the Raider Way. And we wanted to put on that Silver and Black and have everyone respect it. But we didn't ever put a bounty on someone."