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We all remember Bountygate. That’s when the New Orleans Saints had a bounty system in place from 2009-11 that provided cash rewards to its players for hard hits and knocking opponents out of NFL games. It was a huge controversy that resulted in fines, forfeited draft picks, and head coach Sean Payton receiving a season-long suspension.

What’s interesting is years before the whole Saints controversy exploded and made headlines, Green Bay Packers legend and Hall of Famer Reggie White was openly talking about paying teammates for big hits. And the NFL did absolutely nothing about it.

NFL exposes New Orleans Saints Bountygate

In March 2012, the NFL announced the findings of its investigation into the New Orleans Saints and how its players and coaches participated in a scheme that rewarded players for hard hits and causing injuries to opposing players. 

The NFL said the bounty program began back in 2009, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl, and continued through the 2011 season. The NFL detailed several specific incidents of bounties but focused on the 2009 NFC Championship game against the Minnesota Vikings when Brett Favre was the recipient of numerous vicious hits as part of the program.

Based on the findings, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell meted out numerous punishments to coaches and players in the Saints organization, including a season-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton, an indefinite suspension of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and an eight-game suspension of general manager Mickey Loomis. Four players for the Saints were also suspended, although those punishments were later overturned on appeal.  

Reggie White discusses “Smash for Cash” program

Turn back the clock to 1996, just 13 years before the first reported season of Bountygate. In the NFL playoffs that year, Green Bay Packers star defensive end Reggie White had his own pay-for-performance scheme called the “Smash for Cash” program.

In White’s program, he offered his teammates $500 for any big hits on opposing players. In an interview with ESPN, White provided specific details about the program and how he once asked his wife to write him a check for $9,500, so he could pay his teammates for their work. 

White and numerous other players talked about the various “smash for cash” operations set up in their organizations. At the time, the NFL indicated the programs were OK as long as players “use their own money, amounts are not exorbitant, and payments aren’t for illegal hits.” 

It was a completely different position than what the league would take 16 years later in the Saints case. 

Bounties have been part of the NFL for years

The 1985 Chicago Bears, a team many consider to be one of the greatest ever, had their own bounty controversy during their Super Bowl season. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle fined Bears linebacker Wilber Marshall $2000 after he blasted Detroit Lions quarterback Joe Ferguson in the regular-season finale.

Rozelle and the NFL’s suspicions were raised when Bears cornerback Mike Richardson commented that the team had a rewards system in place for knocking out quarterbacks. Richardson and Bears coach Mike Ditka later denied all allegations. 

There have been other incidents including the 1989 Philadelphia Eagles against the Dallas Cowboys and the 2008 Baltimore Ravens against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Former Ravens coach Brian Billick told Dan Patrick on his show there were bounties when he was the coach.

“Every team does it. Now, to go out and talk publicly about it is about as foolish a thing as I’ve ever heard.”

With bounties commonplace long before the 2012 revelations of the Saints and their scheme, it’s naive to think the players have decided to stop the programs altogether. You can bet, as Billick suggested, it’s going to happen in some form or another. It’s just a matter of time before another incident makes headlines.