In a less than sportsmanlike gambit, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was caught on tape the night before a 2011 National Football Conference (NFC) postseason championship game encouraging his players to injure opponents on the San Francisco 49ers. The incident was recorded by documentary filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, who caught less than four minutes of the roughly 12-minute speech on tape. Pamphilon was following the team for a documentary about former Saints player Steve Gleason, who is fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease.
During the recorded portion of the speech, Gregg mentions several 49ers by name or number, sometimes even directly referencing injuries they have sustained. His language is aggressive and specific in the ways players should go after their targets: "Little 32, we want to knock the [expletive] out of him," as well as, "We hit [expletive] Smith right there," pointing to his chin, according to Pamphilon. Shortly thereafter, while rubbing his thumb, index and middle fingers together to indicate payment, he apparently puts a bounty on Alex Smith, saying, "Remember me. I've got the first one. I've got the first one. Go get it. Go lay that mother [expletive] out." He also tells the team they don't apologize for the way they play and refers to the NFL as a production business.
Gregg Williams and many players, with the knowledge of at least one other coach and the general manager, reportedly kept a pool of around $50,000 to hand out rewards for injuries, including $1,500 for knockouts (knocking a player entirely out of the game) and $1,000 for cart-offs (causing a player to be removed from the field). Paying out for game performances, even allowed actions like intercepting passes, is against NFL rules. Suspensions were handed out to Saints staff members, including one year for head coach Sean Payton, six games for assistant head coach Joe Vitt and eight games for general manager Mickey Loomis. The Saints were also fined $500,000 and lost their second-round 2012 and 2013 draft picks. Williams's speech apparently came after the NFL warned the Saints that it was being investigated and needed to stop the bounty program, but before the penalties were meted out.
The tape went public the same day Payton, Vitt and Loomis were scheduled to have appeals heard by the National Football League (NFL) regarding their punishment for the bounty scheme. Their appeals were denied. Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely, but did not appeal the decision.
Gregg Williams actually left the team after that game to work for the St. Louis Rams. And despite any dirty play, the 49ers won the NFC playoffs 35 to 32 against the Saints.