Former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams testified that he tried to shut down the team’s bounty system when the NFL began investigating but was overruled by interim Saints head coach Joe Vitt, according to transcripts from appeals hearings obtained by The Associated Press.
According to the transcripts, Williams said that then-assistant Vitt responded to a suggestion that the pay-for-pain setup be abandoned with an obscenity-filled speech about how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "wasn’t going to ... tell us to ... stop doing what won us the Super Bowl. This has been going on in the ... National Football League forever, and it will go on here forever, when they run (me) out of there, it will still go on."
Williams and Vitt were among a number of witnesses whose testimony was heard by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who on Tuesday overturned four player suspensions in the case. Tagliabue was appointed by Goodell to handle the final round of appeals. The AP obtained transcripts of Tagliabue’s closed-door hearings through a person with a role in the case.
Vitt was a Saints assistant who was banned for six games for his part in the scandal but now is filling in for head coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for the entire season. Williams was suspended indefinitely by Goodell. Others who testified included former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, the initial whistleblower and considered a key NFL witness.
Transcripts portray the former coaching colleagues, all part of the Saints’ 2010 Super Bowl championship, as bitterly disagreeing with one another and occasionally contradicting how the NFL depicted the bounty system.
Tagliabue’s ruling found that "Saints’ coaches and managers led a deliberate, unprecedented and effective effort to obstruct the NFL’s investigation. ..."
The transcripts, which could be entered as evidence in Vilma’s pending defamation case against Goodell, include numerous testy, and sometimes humorous, exchanges between witnesses and attorneys -- and between Tagliabue and the attorneys.
Offering to take a lie detector test, Vitt challenged versions given by Williams and Cerullo. Vitt vowed to sue Cerullo and described Williams as "narcissistic." He referred to both as disgruntled former employees who were fired, even though, publicly, the Saints said Williams’ departure for St. Louis was by mutual agreement. Vitt depicted Cerullo as incompetent and said he missed work numerous times and offered bizarre, fabricated excuses for his absences.
Vitt was asked whether he oversaw Cerullo’s attempts to destroy evidence related to bounties, which the NFL determined the Saints sanctioned from 2009 to 2011, with thousands of dollars offered for hits that injured opponents and knocked them out of games.
"No. The answer is no," Vitt said. "Cerullo is an idiot."
Williams stood by his earlier sworn statement that Vilma pledged a $10,000 bounty on quarterback Brett Favre in the Saints’ game against the Minnesota Vikings for the NFC championship. But Williams also said that the performance pool he ran was aimed at team bonding, not bounties, and that he saw a difference between asking players to hit hard legally, which he said he did, and asking them to purposely injure an opponent, which he said no one in the organization condoned.
Cerullo testified that league investigators misrepresented what he told them, and that, during the playoffs following the 2009 regular season, he kept track of large playoff pledges on note pads but didn’t collect the money.
Cerullo described pregame meetings during the playoffs, when the Saints faced quarterback Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals and then Favre.
He said Vitt told players Warner "should have been retired" and "we’re going to end the career tomorrow of Kurt Warner." Cerullo also quoted Vitt as saying of Favre: "That old man should have retired when I was there. Is he retiring, isn’t he retiring -- that whole (thing) is over, you know, tomorrow. ... We’ll end the career tomorrow. We’ll force him to retire. ..."