It’s hard to believe the New Orleans Saints are the only NFL team that handed out bounties for injuring stars of opposing teams. The only difference between the Saints and the league’s other 31 teams is this. The Saints got caught and punished.
Plenty of evidence exists over the years to suggest that head-hunting is as much a part of football — at all levels — as passing, punting and tackling. The best way to win a football game is to knock the opposing team’s star quarterback out of the game.
Once you admit head-hunting is part of the game, paying bounties to the successful head hunter is only a small step away.
I’ve experienced headhunting as a high school quarterback in the Fifties, seen it taught at Tulsa University in 1969 and witnessed it on the field in games involving the Arizona Cardinals.
At Tulsa I watched a defensive line coach instruct a player how to wreck the passing arm of Steve Ramsey, the North Texas State quarterback. Ramsey, who held every NCAA passing record at the time, eluded defenders and led the pass-happy Mean Green to a 42-16 victory in Denton.
Woody Hayes, Ohio State’s legendary coach accused the University of Oklahoma of “headhunting” his quarterback Rod Gerald in a 1977 game at Columbus.
Two of the most obvious headhunting incidents I witnessed involved Cardinals players, strong safety Adrian Wilson, and quarterback Kurt Warner. Wilson drove the head of Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards so hard into the ground during a 2008 game that Edwards suffered a concussion and was taken from the game.
Warner, the Cardinals star quarterback, was on the receiving end in a playoff game with the Saints during a playoff game in New Orleans in 2009. After throwing an interception and becoming a defensive player, he was blind-sided by a Saints player and suffered a concussion. Though Warner returned in the second half, many regard that hit as leading to his decision to quit football after that season.
Many pro players receive incentives as part of their contracts. Catch x-number of passes and a bonus comes your way. Lead the team in tackles, a bonus follows. But since “headhunting” can’t be legally put into a contract, NFL teams have found a way around it. Secret bounties, ala the Saints is only one way.