For the most part, we have focused our bounty coverage on Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, who will be suspended for the first eight games of the season unless the NFL shortens or eliminates the penalty. After Hargrove's explosive statement Tuesday afternoon, I will be fascinated to see if the league stands by the terms of Hargrove's penalty.
Certainly, Hargrove's statement included rhetoric (references to both the Mona Lisa and Bill Clinton) and some theatrics (asking reporters to walk into the NFL office and question league officials). But I urge you to look past those portions and recognize that Hargrove brought forth a compelling suggestion that one of the NFL's primary sources of evidence against him is a case of mistaken identity.
As we discussed Monday night, the league used an NFL Films video from the 2009 NFC Championship Game as evidence of a bounty in that game. NFL.com hosts a portion of that video on its website. If you watch it, starting at about the 4:30 mark, you can hear someone say, "Bobby, give me my money."
Hargrove said Tuesday: "Here's the problem with that. It wasn't me. That’s right. The NFL got their evidence all wrong. In their rush to convict me, they made a very serious error. Is it intentional? I don't know. But one thing I do know with absolute certainty. It was not me. …
"It is not my voice. Anyone who knows me well knows that it is not me. But the NFL does not know me well. They simply make assumptions. With my life."
Go ahead and watch for yourself. You can see Hargrove's face at the right of the screen, and it appears he is speaking to defensive end Bobby McCray, who is not in the picture. You can see Hargrove say, "Bobby," but then he is obscured.
Hargrove wouldn't say who uttered the words, "give me my money." In the frame, you can see defensive tackle Remi Ayodele lean over to defensive lineman Will Smith and say something, but his back is to the camera.
Hargrove implied he will take measures to prove it was another player's voice, presumably through voice recognition software, and added: "I stake my life on the fact that it is not me."
If, in fact, someone other than Hargrove said those words, then the league would have made two important mistakes in claiming the video as evidence against Hargrove. As we discussed Monday night, it doesn't make sense that he would have sought bounty payment for a hit on Favre by two other players (McCray and Ayodele). Hargrove was called in the second quarter for unnecessary roughness after a hit on Favre, but no injury was recorded.
Further, it adds to the list of questionable evidence against Hargrove that already includes a mischaracterized declaration and a heavily-disputed assertion that he told a member of the Vikings about the bounty program.
Hargrove said Tuesday he has been the victim of a "sophisticated mugging" and added: "This, in my mind, brings everything into question. Everything."
That's a fair statement. Even if it was in innocent mistake, a false identification of that magnitude invites further scrutiny on everything else the league has alleged. What other mistakes might have been made?
Again, our focus is narrow here. There is enough documented evidence to suggest that something happened here. But is there anything that points to Hargrove's involvement? Slowly but surely, those bricks are falling off the wall. It'll be fascinating to see what happens next.