Williams' words should inspire NFL culture change

April 9, 2012, 5:19 pm
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Forgive my tardiness for weighing in on the big news that broke last week while my family allowed me to tag along on a spring-break vacation . . . The report filed by Yahoo! Sports' Mike Silver on then-New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' playoff-eve speech prior to the game against the 49ers was shocking to many.REWIND: Williams' speech instructed Saints to injure 49ers
Then I listened to film-maker Sean Pamphilon's recording of Williams' talk, which was designed to whip his guys into a frenzy. I had several reactions:--No. 1, the Saints defensive players deserve a lot of credit for not acting on Williams' words.Williams implored his players to head-hunt against Alex Smith, Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Kyle Williams. He instructed his guys to inflict a major knee injury on Michael Crabtree and go after Vernon Davis' ankles.REWIND: Kenny Williams reacts to Saints audio recording
But from what I could tell, the Saints players did nothing to suggest they had any intent of causing a catastrophic injury to 49ers players. It was a clean game.Ted Ginn sustained the only 49ers injury in the game. Ginn fell hard in the second quarter, injuring his right knee, upon being shoved legally by Saints linebacker Martez Wilson within the 5-yard zone. Ginn returned briefly but could not finish the game.--Gregg Williams' greater offense against the 49ers last season was how he approached the first exhibition game after the lockout. He dialed up one "cover zero" blitz after another when the 49ers, still in the early stages of installing their new system, had precious little time to iron out their protection schemes.That was reckless. And it showed no respect for the men who play the game.That carried over to his words before the NFC divisional playoff game. Williams spoke about the opponent as if they were sub-human.--Some former players, such as Randy Cross and Ross Tucker, suggested on Twitter that there was nothing unusual about Williams' speech.Many others had differing views. Cris Carter called for a lifetime ban for Williams. Warren Sapp, in comments to the Bay Area News Group, called Williams' talk "the most heinous, egregious thing in the history of this game."But even on the 49ers, there was a split. Donte Whitner described it as "disgusting." But Carlos Rogers, speaking on KNBR, supported his former coordinator, saying, "He's one of the coaches I admire and would always love to play for."REWIND: Whitner says bounty penalties not severe enough
--It is certainly not uncommon for coaches to emphasize physical points of vulnerability on the opposition. New York Giants players Jacquian Williams and Devin Thomas suggested there was a coordinated effort in the NFC championship game to target Kyle Williams' head because of his concussion history."Players are held accountable for their actions on the field," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in response to a CSNBayArea.com inquiry in the days after the 49ers-Giants game. "There were no illegal hits to the head or neck area against Kyle Williams. There was no conduct by the Giants of any kind that would suggest an effort to injure Kyle Williams in any way."The same could be said about the Saints. Words are one thing; but the Saints did not follow Williams' directives.--This kind of talk, apparently, is part of the culture of football. But it certainly does not mean that it should be accepted. And it does not mean that things will always be like this.At one point in Williams' speech he tells his defensive players, "It's a great game. It's a production business."People who play this "great game" at the highest level should be protected as much as possible. Of course, there will always be high levels of risk to those who play it. That is not going to change.But football is a sport that changes more than any other. There are significant rules changes every season. In trying to legislate in recent seasons against unnecessary hits to the head, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell deserves a lot of credit for trying to make the game better for those who play it.--It's a production business, as Gregg Williams said, and the bottom line is that Williams did not produce in that playoff game against the 49ers.Tight end Vernon Davis roasted Saints safeties Malcolm Jenkins in single coverage. (That's right, during crucial parts of the game, Williams called for single coverage on the 49ers' only weapon in the passing game.)The 49ers exploited a Gregg Williams tendency for the game-winning touchdown on Alex Smith's touchdown pass to Davis, in front of safety Roman Harper, in the closing seconds, too.--Gregg Williams stressed the importance of injuring the 49ers' best players in his night-before-game speech. Certainly, the Saints' chances of winning would've increased if the 49ers have been without some of their top playmakers.After all, the Saints were impacted when Whitner knocked out running back Pierre Thomas early in the game with a legal helmet-to-helmet hit.Injuries will always have an impact on football games. That part of the game will not change.What this Gregg Williams' episode has taught us is that it should be an unspoken -- and, definitely, unrecorded -- part of the game.