Football is a game of aggression. So when I watched as my son’s high-school coach angrily busted a clipboard over the boy’s head, I cringed in silence. If you coach, play or watch closely, you see that part of Gregg Williams’ bounty speech is simply football, the audio version of seeing how the sausage gets made. So how is it different from a million clipboards smashed over a million kids’ heads?
I was a very young man when I realized I had no particular talent for playing football (“Your ankles are too thick,’’ NFL scouting guru Gil Brandt would later inform me). I was 17 when I started coaching it. Over the course of a decade back home in Greeley, Colorado, I would eventually guide junior-high-aged kids. Very serious stuff! But at the start, my little tackle-football “Vikings’’ were 8- and 9-year-olds.
Did I ever order the boys to “Go get (money) … go lay that [expletive] out!’’ in reference to an opposing QB, as the New Orleans Saints’ suspended defensive coordinator Gregg Williams did, as established by filmmaker Sean Pamphilon’s explosive tape proves?
Of course not.
Did I ever specifically instruct them to “do everything in the world to make sure we kill (a running back’s) head’’? Or say, “We want his head sideways.” Or to deliver hits to one wide receiver’s bum knee to “take out that outside ACL.”? Or to “clip the ankles’’ of the tight end? Or to “put a lick on’’ another wide receiver to “find out’’ if he’s recovered from his recent concussion?
Of course not.
I’ll tell you what I did do, though, as a 17-year-old youth-league football coach:
We opted to start every game on defense. And on the very first play of every single game, on the opposing QB’s first “sound,’’ 11 Vikings stormed in unison across the line of scrimmage, knocking 11 little opponents on their little asses.
We sacrificed five yards to start every game. But what we gained? An advantage. We were the aggressors. The line had been established. The Broadview Park Vikings OWNED the line.
In retrospect, do I think just maybe I was taking my kids football a tad too seriously? Er … yeah. Now, nobody was going to get hurt; 8-year-olds pretty much just bounce off one another and I didn’t scream “Kill the head!’’ repeatedly, as Williams does. In fact, I didn’t scream at all, ever, not in 15 years of coaching kids in football, basketball and baseball. And the only two players I ever cussed at were my own kids. (Sorry, Nate and Tony!)
But Gregg Williams, 23 years in the NFL as a coach after a playing career at little Northeast Missouri State (maybe he had thick ankles, too), is a screamer. And he is a cusser. And the NFL is, as he says in the video, “a great game … but a production business.’’ Williams is suspended (and probably at his end as an NFL coach) not because he screams and swears or even because his slogan is “Kill the head and the body will die.’’ I’ve got news for anybody who thinks football is “ballet,’’ the way NFL Films makes it look when Lynn Swann catches the glorious TD passes in slow-motion:
“Kill the head and the body will die’’ is EVERYBODY’S slogan.
In that sense, what you are hearing here is “how the sausage is made.’’ Putting fear into opponents, winning through intimidating, success via aggression … But this is different. This is specific.
Williams gave this speech last season on the night before the New Orleans Saints’ playoff loss at San Francisco. He specifically references QB Alex Smith’s chin, running back
Frank Gore's head, tight end Vernon Davis’ ankles, receiver Michael Crabtree’s knee and receiver Kyle Williams’ concussion. He did all of this despite league warnings against bounties.
Bounties in football are not new. Or rather, “rewards’’ for big hits are nothing new. The Broadview Park Vikings earned cool stickers on their helmets. The stickers were rewards. The 8-year-old’s version of Gregg Williams’ cash offerings, right?
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is working to end the tradition. So Williams, now employed by the Rams, is likely done. His New Orleans boss, Sean Payton, is suspended for the year. Oh, and when the NFL faces billion-dollar lawsuits from ex-players with head injuries who feel like the game stole their brains? Goodell can point to his iron-fisted Saints dealings as evidence that he cares. It’ll be like the tobacco industry, claiming they did something about cigarettes and cancer as soon as they could.
Williams is not wrong for saying, “Respect comes from fear.’’ The little Vikings knew that. Every pro football player knows that. But the game is violent enough and aggressive enough without the specificity of calling for attacks on this guy’s chin and that guy’s knee and that other guy’s head.
Nate Fisher found it out, too, when his own coach busted those clipboards over the kid’s helmet in practice. And again he found it out when in his Lewisville High’s playoff game at Texas Stadium against the eventual state champs, an opposing player punched my pass-route-running son in the chin after the whistle, sending him to the sideline with a concussion that affected Nate for three days.
Nate passed on the chance to play college football. So that was his very last football game.
No more clipboards. No more concussions. No more aggression.
And knowing what I know about the game – and what, thanks to Gregg Williams, more of us are learning about the game -- I’m very OK with that.