ProFootballTalk.com released a report Oct. 18 revealing a program run by former Green Bay Packers defensive end Reggie White that allegedly offered money for big hits. The article by Michael David Smith cites two earlier reports, a 1996 article by the New York Daily News and an Associated Press story from the same year.
Both stories say White contributed up to $500 for "big hits," including money White paid himself for a hit on Steve Young.
According to the AP story, White told reporters, "I gave them money for big hits," but that quote is seemingly contradicted by White's own words in a different account of the situation.
In his 1996 autobiography "In the Trenches," White discusses the 49ers/Packers playoff game in question, including the smash-for-cash program. On page six of the book, White details dividing his paycheck among fellow defensive players:
"My paycheck for that game was $13,000 - but I only kept a little bit of it. The rest of it went to my teammates. For a couple years, the Packers players had been running an incentive program. We all contributed to a fund for the players who made big plays. When the fund ran out of money near the end of the season, Sean Jones and I kicked in some extra cash to keep the program going.
"The newspapers called it "smash-for-cash" and claimed we were paying a bounty on bone-crushing hits. That wasn't it at all. We were rewarding big plays, not big hits - a practice that the NFL has okayed and that is no different from a quarterback buying gifts for the offensive linemen who do a good job of keeping him alive in the pocket.
Is "Smash for Cash" significantly different from the Saints' bounty program?
"Did the money motivate us to play harder? I don't know. All I do know is that the only money I made on the 49ers game was the $500 I earned for a takedown I made on Steve Young."
Obviously, there is some conflict with the other stories, but the general idea remains consistent: A program rewarding players for performance on the field, big hits or otherwise, was approved and apparently even monitored by the NFL.
The potential repercussions of this revelation remain large, if undefined. The NFL could simply end up arguing semantics with the union, saying that "pay for play" and "pay to injure" are inherently different things, which the NFLPA will undoubtedly counter by by contesting the league's prior knowledge of a bounty-like system in the NFL.
It's also possible the NFL won't even allow a comparison at all, since White's system took place under a different commissioner in a different era, although that claim is complicated by the fact that Paul Tagliabue will be taking over the bounty appeals hearings.
Tagliabue, of course, was league commissioner while the Green Bay "smash for cash" system was in place, which would presumably indicate he at least had knowledge of the situation.
In any case, the Bountygate saga just took another turn for the weird.