As fans and media across America gather their pitchforks and torches and prepare to storm the Superdome over their outrage that New Orleans players and coaches offered bounties for injuring opposing players during games, they may want to take a moment to consider the effect that their vitriol could have on the Saints' opponents next year.
These bounties apparently have been offered for some time with the full knowledge of general manager Mickey Loomis, head coach Sean Payton, and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (who may have been doing this for years at other coaching spots around the NFL), and the low point, according to a memo sent to all 32 NFL teams and obtained by Peter King of Sports Illustrated, may have come during the 2010 NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings.
"For example, prior to a Saints playoff game in January 2010, defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 in cash to any player who knocked [Brett] Favre out of the game.''
King is among those leading the charge for the offending parties to be tarred and feathered, calling for the sorts of penalties, fines, and suspensions that would be unprecedented in today's NFL.
Goodell has a few reasons to issue a string of suspensions the likes of which the league has never seen. (Don't think Spygate sanctions here, folks. Think Alex Karras-Paul Hornung sanctions. The Patriots got fines and lost a first-round pick for illegal videotaping. In 1962, Karras and Hornung got a year for gambling.)
Goodell will almost certainly come down harshly on many of the accused parties (especially Williams, who is now the defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams), but there's good reason to think that a draconian smackdown could have the opposite effect on the Saints players that actually take the field on Sundays next year, and for an example of such a situation, we need look back only as far as the last team that was villified for getting their hand caught in the cookie jar.
After the "Spygate" scandal rocked the New England Patriots in 2007, the team was fined, docked draft picks and jeered by fans and pundits across the NFL as a bunch of cheaters. However, rather than crumble under the intense scrutiny, the Patriots circled the wagons, went into what ESPN's Bill Simmons termed "eff you" mode and then proceeded to not only become the the first team in NFL history to go 16-0 in the regular season, but did so by blowing out as many teams as possible.
This isn't to say that the Saints will go 16-0 and make the Super Bowl in 2012, but it's not hard at all to envision the Saints playing much of next season with a very large chip on their shoulders, taking out their frustrations about being raked over the coals constantly by the media on their opponents.
The fallout from "Bountygate" (why does it always have to be "...gate"? That was 40 years ago. Can't we come up with something new?) has only just begun, and there will undoubtedly be stiff punishments handed down, but don't be surprised if once the season starts the New Orleans Saints don't use the whole fiasco to hand out some punishment of their own on the field.