It was the Wednesday before Washington opened the 2006 “Monday Night Football” season against visiting Minnesota and former Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson. Assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams knew about the bad blood between Redskins owner Dan Snyder and Johnson and decided to do something about it in the defensive meeting room.
“Gregg came in and dropped $15,000 on the (table) and said, ‘Brad Johnson doesn’t finish this game. This is Wednesday and the money will go up later in the week. It could double or triple by the end of the week,’ “one of the players recalled. “A couple of guys kinda got excited. (Defensive line coach) Greg Blache said, ‘If you get fined, it will be taken care of.’
A second Redskin, who also asked to remain anonymous, corroborated his teammate’s account.
“I can’t say for sure it was $15,000, but I definitely remember that happening before that Minnesota game,” the second player said. “And I can’t say for sure that those were G-Dub’s exact words about Brad Johnson, but that was certainly the message. I had never heard anything like that before from a coach, but I wasn’t shocked because that was G-Dub’s character, so in your face. His language was always X-rated and our meetings were usually pretty nuts.”
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The second player said that the Johnson theatrics weren’t a first in Washington for Williams, who has been suspended by the NFL for this season and perhaps beyond for offering bounties to his players to injure opponents as New Orleans’ coordinator from 2009-11.
“The same thing happened before our playoff game the year before against Seattle,” the player recalled. “Gregg wanted us to get (Seahawks MVP running back) Shaun Alexander. Now it happened that (linebacker LaVar Arrington) knocked Shaun out of the game, but he was just playing hard. Unless it’s a free shot at the quarterback, you have a really hard time trying to hurt a guy when you’re making a play on the ball.”
Besides, the player added, the veterans didn’t take Williams’ over-the-top tactics very seriously.
“We just wanted to go out and play hard,” he said. “We weren’t looking to injure a guy. But Gregg’s one of the best defensive coaches in football and a great motivator. Players are very loyal to him. He probably had an effect on the young guys like (late safety) Sean Taylor, who he had drafted so high and who he really believed in.”
Since Williams’ bounties were only paid off after victories, Arrington wasn’t rewarded when the Redskins blew a 10-0 lead and lost to the eventual NFC champion Seahawks. And no one was paid after the loss to the Vikings either, a game in which Johnson was only sacked once and finished the game in the victory kneel formation.
The second player said that, unlike Saints coach Sean Payton, who has been suspended for 2012, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs was unaware of Williams’ prohibited inducements during their 2004-07 Washington tenure.
“Coach Gibbs let Gregg run the defense,” the player said. “When he would come to our meetings, it would be like the principal coming into your classroom. As soon as he left, it would be crazy again like when you used to have a substitute teacher back in school. We never told anybody in the media about this stuff because you keep some things in house. It’s like when you’re growing up. Some things just stay in the family.”
Both players are surprised that the Saints weren’t able to keep the bounty offerings in-house, but weren’t at all shocked that Williams was the focal point when the story broke of such unethical occurrences happening the NFL.
“I remember watching that Saints-Vikings championship game (in January 2010) and they were hitting (Minnesota quarterback Brett) Favre constantly,” the first player said. “I remember telling my wife that it was the same thing Gregg had asked us to do with Brad Johnson.”
As for the severe punishment that Williams received from the NFL on Wednesday, the second player said the coach always knew that he was rolling the dice.
“I’m sure Gregg’s not the only one who has done stuff like this, but he’s the one who got caught,” the player said. “He had to know that was possible before he took the risk.”
And this time, it’s the risk-taker who got hurt.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March.