From Comcast SportsNetFormer 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.Vitt, Williams and Cerullo appeared separately before Tagliabue and were questioned by lawyers for the NFL and lawyers representing the players originally suspended by Goodell: Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove.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 referred to the case as "somewhat of a witch hunt." He said he wants to coach in the NFL again, "took responsibility so that nobody else had to," and that Vilma has "been made a scapegoat."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."The game is about a mental toughness on top of a physical toughness," Williams testified at one point. "You know, it's not golf."Williams, however, acknowledged he suggested Favre should be knocked out of the game."We want to play tough, hard-nosed football and look to get ready to play against the next guy. ... Brett is a friend of mine, and so that's just part of this business," Williams said. "You know, at no time, you know, are we looking to try to end anybody's career."Williams described player pledges to the pool as "nominal" and said they rarely kept the money they earned, either putting it back in the pool or offering it as tips to equipment personnel. In the case of the large amounts pledged during the playoffs, Williams described it as "air" or "funny money" or "banter," adding that he never actually saw any cash collected or distributed and had no idea what would have happened to the money if Cerullo collected it.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 said hits for cash started with Williams telling the staff that "Sean kind of put him in charge of bringing back a swagger to the defense ... so he wanted to brainstorm with us as coaches what we thought we could do. ... At one point in one of those meetings, Joe Vitt suggested (his previous teams) had a pay-for-play, pay-for-incentive program that the guys kind of bought into and kind of had fun with, and, you know, that was his suggestion. At that point, Gregg also admitted that other places he was at, they had the same type of thing. And at that point, Gregg kind of ran with it."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. ..."Cerullo testified that, once word came that the NFL was investigating, Williams told him to delete computer files about bounty amounts and that Vitt checked on his progress.Asked what motivated him to come forward as a whistleblower with an email to the league in November 2011, Cerullo replied: "I was angry for being let go from the Saints."Later, he testified: "I was angry at Joe Vitt, and I wanted to show that I was fired for lying and I witnessed Joe Vitt lying and he still had a job. So, that was my goal of reaching out to the NFL."The transcripts also portray Tagliabue's command of the proceedings, including his efforts to rein in the lawyers."I'm going to intervene much more significantly, going forward," Tagliabue interjected at one point, "because I am extremely concerned that this is getting to be cumulative, confusing and useless, and I do not preside over proceedings that are cumulative, confusing and useless."There also were lighter moments, such as when Tagliabue announced: "I thought I was going to get through this proceeding only by drinking coffee. I'm getting to the point where I need a Bloody Mary."
When coach Joel Quenneville has put Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane together it’s usually been during the postseason.
It’s rare when it happens in the regular season and when it does, it seems like an in-case-of-emergency move. But in this case, it may be more of a get-the-captain’s-production-going move.
The Blackhawks made a few more line changes on Thursday, including combining Toews and Kane, as they prepared for Friday night’s game at the New Jersey Devils. Marian Hossa moved to right wing on the second line with Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov. Marcus Kruger and Nick Schmaltz flip-flopped as third- and fourth-line centers. Tyler Motte and Ryan Hartman were the third-line wings while Dennis Rasmussen and Jordin Tootoo were on the fourth line.
Coach Joel Quenneville said the line changes, including Kane’s move to the first line, were because the Blackhawks continue to look for balance. To a point, that’s true; the Blackhawks still haven’t come close to getting that four-line rotation with which they’ve found so much success. But considering how successful the Toews and Kane combination has been for each, you’d have to think it’s to help bolster Toews’ point totals. Toews has just two assists through the first seven games.
“Right now I think Jonny, his production isn’t where you look at his play – we still always like the way he plays, he’s so useful in so any different ways,” Quenneville said. “I think maybe we get more balance on both lines. We’ve been trying a number of different looks in our top two groups there. over seven games we still need to be better in a lot of ways. hopefully we can find it.”
Still, if you can get your top players producing points, it’s worth a try. And Kane and Toews, regardless of how long they’ve been apart, usually click immediately upon reuniting.
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“Yeah, I guess change can be good in this sense. We can probably produce a little bit more offense and have the puck a little bit more throughout the game,” Kane said. “I’ve played with Jonny a bunch before. Obviously, not as much lately. But I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a fun way to play hockey. Obviously he’s one of the best players in the game, and probably in my mind, the easiest player to play with. It’ll be fun to get back out there with him and try to create something, try to produce and have some fun with it.”
As for that usual second line of Panarin, Anisimov and Kane, remember: as we’ve seen before, it can be put together again fast.
“They get a lot of shifts and a lot of looks. It’s not like we’re too far away from going back to it at any time. It’s always close and available,” Quenneville said. “Maybe we get more balance and a little more scoring across the board.”
- Defenseman Gustav Forsling (upper body) did not skate on Thursday and will not travel to New Jersey. Quenneville is still hoping Forsling can play on Sunday vs. the Los Angeles Kings.
- Forward Andrew Desjardins (lower body) continues to improve. Quenneville said Desjardins could be skating in the next day or so.
- Corey Crawford will start vs. the Devils.
Illinois announced Thursday the establishment of a university athletics hall of fame, and who better than Dick Butkus to be the first inductee?
According to the announcement, Illinois has discussed creating an athletics hall of fame to honor past student-athletes for years, but this is the first time it's been acted upon — not necessarily a surprise now that Josh Whitman, a former Illinois football player, is now in charge of the department.
"The University of Illinois has an incredible and storied history in athletics," Whitman said in the announcement. "Legendary names in sports history are found throughout the Illini record books, and we are excited to honor them in our new Hall of Fame. Since the athletic program's inception in 1890, some of the world's greatest athletes have competed in the orange and blue. Ultimately, as we begin to populate the Hall of Fame, our collection of recognized greats will compare favorably with that of any institution in the nation."
Butkus, of course, is the obvious choice to be the first announced member of the hall of fame's inaugural class.
Regarded by many as the best linebacker and defensive football player ever, Butkus spent three seasons in Champaign, twice a unanimous All-American selection. Playing both center and linebacker at Illinois, he finished in the top six in Heisman Trophy voting in 1963 and 1964, a shocking accomplishment for someone playing a position other than quarterback, running back or receiver.
Butkus made 374 tackles in three seasons and is one of just two players — the other being Red Grange — to have his number retired at Illinois. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame (thanks to his remarkable career with the Bears), and the annual award for the best linebacker in college football is named after Butkus.
"The University of Illinois has played an extremely important role in my life," Butkus said in the announcement. "I have many life-long relationships that began at the U of I and have always been proud to call myself a Fighting Illini. To be recognized in the inaugural class of the Athletics Hall of Fame is a terrific feeling. I'm very proud of what my teams and I accomplished, including the 1963 Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl victory. Thank you for this honor."
The Illini will announce the entire inaugural class in February, with induction coming next September.