Peter King’s MMQB column might be the best one-week “global tour” of a sport which is out in print now. His writing is effervescent, he has great access for interviews, scrambles hard, and has a sense of humor. The best, right now.
But half way through this morning’s column by Peter, my jaw dropped at the suggestion — and Peter labels it as only a suggestion, though there’s some very good supporting empirical data cited — that Peyton’s neck issues may have had their original genesis in a hit he took from two Redskins’ defenders (coached by Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams) in an October 2006 game. This is explosive stuff, quoted here:
“Can Peyton Manning’s neck injury be traced to Gregg Williams? Williams was the Redskins’ defensive coordinator on Oct. 22, 2006, for the Washington-Indianapolis game. Last fall, during an NBC telecast, Tony Dungy said Manning’s current neck injury stems from that game. Manning’s neck got wrenched and his helmet ripped off on a hit by two Washington defenders. We showed the highlight on our show. Manning, after being hit and crumbling to the ground awkwardly, lay there for a second, and when he rose, he stretched his neck and shook his right arm for a second, as if trying to get the feeling back in it.
Afterward, as I wrote last fall in this column, Dungy told me: “Earlier in the game, I’m outraged that there was a flag for roughing-the-passer on Dwight Freeney for just grazing the quarterback’s helmet. So I’m yelling at the ref [Scott Green], ‘Where’s the flag! Where’s the flag!’ And I don’t yell much, but I did then. So I didn’t notice Peyton calling timeout and being shaken up. Peyton came to the sideline and said to [backup] Jim Sorgi, ‘Jim, start warming up.’ As the timeout went on, he said to us, ‘I can stay in, but we need to run the ball here.’ ” Which the Colts did, settling for a field goal deep in Washington territory.
“Then we sort of forgot about it at halftime, and Peyton seemed fine,” said Dungy. “He lit it up in the second half. He was on fire [throwing for 244 yards and three touchdowns]. But that’s the year we started cutting back on his throws at practice. I’m not putting two plus two together. I just figure he’s getting older and he needs some time off, he’s made enough throws. But now, as I look back on it, there’s no doubt in my mind that this was the start of his neck problems.” There’s no evidence that Washington’s defenders had a bounty out on Manning that night. But it’s a question, surely, that begs to be asked. And if I were one of the league investigators interviewing Williams today, it’s certainly something I’d explore.”
Roger Goodell’s original motivation on this “bounty”/intentional injury issue is the same as what motivates him on the concussion topic: lawsuit liability. Insurance liability (or lack of insurance coverage for intentional injuries.) But he has some very sticky wickets in front of him, like:
1) Perhaps not every team has had explicit “bounties”, but some form of encouragement and toleration of trying to “take out” other players has been going on forever in the NFL (and at other levels.) Why is this important? Because this story has “legs” as long as Shaq’s: there are going to be dribbling out all over the press, for the coming months, convincing stories from current and former players about this practice.
2) Which raises another issue: Goodell might be handing out, over the coming months, many many suspensions and fines — not just to Saints’ related players, coaches, staff and owners. Each of which will stamp another black eye on the league.
3) We are seeing more “tectonic plate shifting” in the NFL. a) Legal liability will change this game, just as real and potential legal liability caused wrenching, thorough change in Big Tobacco, and in asbestos-use and injury prevention in the building products industry; and b) The savvy NFL observers all agree that the old “equilibrium” between offense and defense in the NFL has shifted, over the last decade (and with increasing speed, over the last 3 years) to the Offense. Because perception is reality, and due to the factors above, this “Bountygate” intentional injury brouhaha has already caused what I believe will be a further shift “in favor” of the Offenses in the NFL. Watch for more scoring, a more wide-open game, and a greater shift on retaining and using players with a higher speed quotient. Tectonic Plates are Shifting.