Holler: Saints' cover-up could cost them

Sean Payton (Sean Gardner/Getty)

An unnamed Viking may have gotten the NFL's Bountygate investigation rolling, but the Saints' cover-up turned out to be just as damning.

Following the Vikings' loss to the Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, then-head coach Brad Childress was not a happy pappy. He made comments, both publicly and privately, that the Saints had used goon-type tactics with the intention of injuring Brett Favre.

As it turns out, the Vikings may have been the genesis of the inquiry by the NFL's security division into the Bountygate scandal that (for the time being) has been bounced off the front page of NFL chatter thanks to the bizarre "we're cutting you" press conference with Peyton Manning and Jim Irsay embracing and saying all the right things before the team changed the keypad code to the training room door.

The initial complaint, according to NFL documents, was made by the Vikings, who specifically claimed that a defensive player who knocked Favre out of the game would receive a $10,000 payment. When interviewed, then-Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and linebackers coach Joe Vitt both "categorically denied" that the allegation was true.

It was stated in the documents that a Vikings player made the allegation but failed to provide supporting evidence and eventually retracted the initial allegation. It may have ended there, but Saints head coach Sean Payton apparently told Saints employees to get their stories straight, which, like the Watergate conspiracy that began the "gate" phenomenon to become a blanket term for conspiracies, took the crime to a new level.

Having a bounty policy in place was bad enough. Paying off the perpetrators that collected the bounty money was bad enough, too. But, when Payton began the cover-up that the bounty existed, things get much worse. In cases like this, the cover-up is often viewed as being worse than the crime itself. It brought down Richard Nixon. It might bring down Payton and will almost certainly put Williams' head on the NFL chopping block.

The investigation appeared dead until late last year when new allegations arose – ones with more teeth than the unnamed Viking who initially reported it. While no names were mentioned, it can be logically assumed that the information came from a player who was "on the inside" – a player for the Saints either in 2009 or throughout the duration of the three-year bounty program.

To date, the only mention of Saints players have been in vague terms, other than the fact the Jonathan Vilma has been identified as the alleged player who offered $10,000 to sideline Favre. As many as 22 to 27 defensive players were in some way involved.

The thing about scandals that makes them scandals isn't so much that a rogue coach or player concocted a plot to circumvent the rules. It's that the ensuing cover-up makes everyone involved – whether before the fact or after – guilty.

It would appear that the Vikings were at the center of the controversy – serving as a Deep Throat in the Bountygate scandal. It was the allegations leveled by a Vikings player that got the ball rolling and, along the way, swept up a lot of people in the Big Easy.

By the time the owners meet later this month, we could find out "Who dat?" in terms of culpability in Bountygate. Deep Throat didn't bring down Nixon. He simply pushed Woodward and Bernstein in the right direction. The whistle-blowing Viking isn't going to bring down Williams, Payton or Saints general manager Mickey Loomis – but he did open the door and get investigators pointed in the right direction. The attempted cover-up did the rest.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.


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