Today in NFC South history: Bountygate

Precisely a year ago, one of the most sordid scandals in the history of sports fell upon us out of the blue.

On this afternoon a year ago, the NFL sent out a scathing report that said the New Orleans Saints had run a three-year bounty program with financial incentives for injuring opponents.

It was the story that wouldn’t go away. For months upon months, there were daily twists, turns, audiotapes and blaming of “snitches."

Coach Sean Payton, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis all drew suspensions. They appealed and lost.

Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith and two other former Saints also drew suspensions by the league. They appealed, continuously, and eventually won.

In the end, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed the appeals process over to former commissioner Paul Tagliabue. The suspensions of Vilma, Smith and the two others were vacated.

In the minds of many Saints fans, that meant vindication. But that’s nothing more than blind loyalty and Saints fans are missing the point by a mile. Tagliabue found that virtually all of Goodell’s factual findings were correct, but decided the punishment didn’t fit the crime.

Whether it was not having Payton for the full season, not having Vitt for six games or all the distractions, the bounty scandal took a toll on the Saints. They went 7-9.

But, as I wrote on the day this all started, the Saints have no one to blame but themselves. Their arrogance was their downfall. If they had simply stopped the bounty program the minute the NFL told them to, we never would have heard about it. Instead, the Saints denied it and kept right on doing it and it all caught up to them.

It’s over now and it’s time for the Saints to move on. They should benefit from a much quieter offseason because they’ll have their coach and they won’t be surrounded by a daily circus.