|Facing an eight-game suspension, Hargrove has loudly disputed the NFL's case. (AP)|
Former New Orleans Saints practice squad defensive lineman Earl Heyman, who was on the sidelines during the NFC Championship Game in which a microphone picked up a Saints player saying "pay me my money," told CBSSports.com on Wednesday, repeatedly, that the player in question was not Anthony Hargrove. The NFL, in presenting evidence to players ahead of Monday's appeal hearing in the Saints bounty case, identified Hargrove as the player who uttered those words.
Hargrove read a near 15-minute statement Tuesday outside the league office in New York proclaiming he was not the player who said it, and he and other Saints players have denied the existence of a bounty program. Heyman, whose NFL experience consisted of only that one season on the practice squad and who is now a boxer, said he felt compelled to speak after seeing the video from the Saints' sideline aired on television and dissected in the media.
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"I was right there, right there in that closeup [of the defensive huddle] they're talking about," Heyman said. "Every time they came off the field I was standing right there talking to them, and I know who said it, and I can say with 100 percent accuracy who said it, and I know 100 percent it wasn't Anthony."
Heyman, who was signed by the Saints out of Louisville following a tryout, refused to reveal the player who uttered those remarks, but said he is willing to give his account of the events to the NFL. The timing of that would have probably been more helpful before Monday's hearing, which suspended players Anthony Hargrove, Scott Fujita, Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith attended. The video shows Saints defenders huddled around and being informed by assistant coach Joe Vitt that Vikings quarterback Brett Favre had been injured and is likely not returning to the game, to which a player responds, "Pay me my money."
At one point Hargrove's lips are moving and he seems to be saying "Bobby," possibly to teammate Bobby McCray, but then teammate Remi Ayodele leans back and Hargrove's face becomes obscured. Heyman said he was in on that meeting, just out of the camera shot being shown as evidence, and that he saw and heard who said it but it was not Hargrove.
"I don't want to incriminate anyone," Heyman said in explaining why he would not reveal who said it. "I will if I have to, if it goes to court or something like that, I'd testify. But I don't want to get caught up in this or that or getting more people in trouble. That's not what I'm about, but I am about protecting Anthony because he's my friend and he's been done a great injustice and he's been done wrong."
The NFL released a statement Tuesday, following Hargrove's remarks, saying that it stands behind its investigation, and it is making no further comment now. The league intended the hearing as an opportunity for players to come forward with any new evidence or statements to make their case. Goodell is now in the process of weighing their appeals. Only Vilma, who was suspended for the 2012 season, was hit harder than Hargrove (eight games) among the players. The league said Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers, lied to investigators at one point, which played a role in the severity of his discipline.
|Earl Heyman says 'Bountygate' isn't such a big deal. (Getty Images)|
"I was right there," Heyman said. "I remember it because it was a monumental play in the game, and I know Anthony didn't say that."
Asked if the fact that some player made the comment about "pay me the money," points to the existence of a bounty program, Heyman objected.
"It might have been something personal between two players, 'If I get to the quarterback first I get paid,'" Heyman said. "Stuff like that happens all across the league. I've been in the room and I witnessed what went on, and there absolutely, positively was no bounty system or program. We didn't get paid to injure players. That didn't happen. People are making more of it than what it really is. I was there in the meeting rooms. I was there."
Heyman said that Gregg Williams used various forms of motivation, devices to fire players up, but that it was not literal, and the players and coaches knew it.
"Gregg was the master at that -- what he said was not what he means," Heyman said.
The NFL contends that various team officials admitted to the existence of a bounty program during the investigation. The players have vigorously denied it. Heyman said he hopes to do what he can to exonerate Hargrove of the accusations from the 2010 championship game video, and would give the NFL the same account of events he gave to CBSSports.com if asked.
"I would not have any problem talking to the NFL," Heyman said. "If somebody contacted me I'd tell them exactly what I told you -- I'd tell the truth. I don't have any stake in it. I don't play in the NFL anymore. ... It's not like I owe anyone on that team anything or I owe the NFL anything. I have no problem doing it, but I was hoping it wouldn't come to that. I'd say the same thing in front of Roger Goodell or his lawyers."