By TIM YOTTER
The NFL's investigation into the New Orleans Saints was met with some expected fire from the Minnesota Vikings, who were beaten up by the Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship Game during Minnesota's 31-28 overtime loss.
The league concluded that Saints players, then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and at least one assistant participated in a "pay for performance" program for three years that awarded "bounty" payments for "cart-offs" (meaning that the opposing player was carried off the field) and "knockouts" (meaning that the opposing player was not able to return to the game). Players were paid between 1,000 and 1,500, with those amounts as much as tripling during the playoffs, according to the NFL release on the investigation.
Vikings punter Chris Kluwe took to Twitter to express his outrage shortly after the story broke.
"Wow, I hadn't even seen the whole Saints Bountygate thing. (Expletive) all of you that participated in that with the intent to injure," Kluwe wrote. "Football's a violent game, but there's a difference between playing hard and playing to hurt someone. That (expletive) is unacceptable."
"And let me make it perfectly clear -- it doesn't matter WHAT team you play for. That kind of thing should NEVER happen," he tweeted. "I mean seriously, think about it. You're talking about paying someone to INTENTIONALLY injure someone else. They put people in JAIL for that."
After being informed of the NFL report, Percy Harvin tweeted: "I hope what I'm hearing on this bounty program saints had on my man Brett ain't true. ... I hope there not on schedule bc that will be in the back off my mind .... God forgive we dnt play them I hate dirty ball."
The NFL said fines, suspensions and even forfeiture of draft picks could be part of the Saints' punishment.
Then-Vikings quarterback Brett Favre had his ankle injured badly in that NFC Championship Game but continued to play in pain. After the loss, his ankle was visibly swollen in the locker room and he struggled to make it up the few steps to the post-game interview stage at the Superdome.
Sports Illustrated's Peter King tweeted Friday that he talked to Favre, who said, "I'm not pissed. It's football. I don't think anything less of those guys."
Months after the injury and before the rematch in September 2010, Favre similarly downplayed the hits he took.
"I've heard that," Favre said when asked if he felt he was mistreated. "Going home (to Mississippi), everyone was like, 'I thought that was this and that.' Had it been us doing that to Drew (Brees), we wouldn't probably feel that way.
"They would be getting those questions. It's football. If you're able to get the opposing quarterback out. . . . Are there cheap hits that happen occasionally? In every game. The ones on the quarterback are more obvious. To answer your question, no, I didn't feel that way."
Williams has since moved on to the St. Louis Rams coaching staff, but former Vikings coach Brad Childress hinted at his belief that the Saints had intent to injure. Childress said on more than one occasion that he didn't like the Saints' approach.
"What I hate to see are late hits or attempts to hurt anybody," Childress said in 2010. "I don't think there's a place for that in the game."
Williams offered a statement on Friday.
"I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, Mr. Benson, and New Orleans Saints fans. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again," he said, adding that the bounty program was "a terrible mistake and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it."
Another Vikings player called it "pretty ridiculous to try and hurt people" in a text to Viking Update.
That NFC Championship Game loss still stung almost nine months later when the Vikings faced the Saints in a rematch for the NFL's 2010 regular-season opener. The memory of Favre hobbling to the sidelines and trying to move around in the playoff game after having his ankle twisted was an enduring memory.
"Everybody knew we had a lot of late hits on the quarterback that weren't called. You're playing football and it is what it is," guard Anthony Herrera said before that 2010 rematch.
In fact, even before that rematch, the trash-talking on Twitter was rampant.
Former Vikings safety Darren Sharper, who was with the Saints in 2009 and 2010, got things percolating with a Twitter post about Favre's ankle surgery in May 2010. Sharper tweeted that "'X' marks the spot" on Favre's injured ankle -- implying that the Saints defense will again come after Favre looking to knock him out of the game and put him on the shelf. Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe defended his QB, saying that Sharper, who also had surgery, shouldn't be throwing stones.
"Sharper had surgery too -- and on his knee," Shiancoe said. "So if 'X' marks the spot on Brett, I wonder what would mark the spot on Sharper? I know which one it is. I know exactly which one it is."
Even former Vikings tackle Bryant McKinnie got involved, tweeting that the Vikings offensive line is "the secret service and Brett is Obama, so try to get thru if u want 2! Now this is ur warning!"
Eventually, those wars of words on Twitter melted into the offseason background, but more than two years after that 2009 NFC Championship Game, which the Saints followed up with a Super Bowl win, the players left on Saints could be feeling the sting of the NFL's sanctions.
For more coverage of the Minnesota Vikings, check out VikingUpdate.com.