Shutdown Corner

Dungy: Gregg Williams’ Redskins may have started Peyton Manning’s neck issues

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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Gregg Williams, feeling his oats in Washington, D.C. (AP)

By the time the "BountyGate" scandal investigation is over, the only thing former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams might not have been blamed for is whatever gas prices happen to be at that time. And now that the bounty system he participated in while with the Saints can be traced back to his time as the Washington Redskins' defensive coordinator, facts that previously came to light are now going under the magnifying glass with a much harsher light cast on them.

Last September, Cindy Boren of the Washington Post wrote an article in which ex-Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy put the start of Peyton Manning's longstanding neck injuries and surgeries at a game between the Colts and the Redskins on October 22, 2006. On one play, Manning was given a "high-low" hit by defensive linemen Andre Carter and Phillip Daniels. Those types of hits, in which two defensive players aim for different halves of an offensive player's body, are among the most dangerous in football.

[Jason Cole: Price for Saints' bounty program should be steep]

After the play, Manning lay on the ground for a brief time, got up, and as Dungy told Peter King of SI.com and NBC Sports last September, shook his right arm "as if trying to get the feeling back in it."

From Boren's story:

"Earlier in the game," Dungy said, "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.' "

"Then we sort of forgot about it at halftime, and Peyton seemed fine," Dungy said. "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."

"The guy wouldn't let go of my head," Manning said after the game of Daniels, who was fined $5,000 by the NFL for the hit. "I looked at my helmet to see if my head was in it."

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Peyton Manning in 2006, just before he got he Williams Treatment. (AP)

Daniels, now the Redskins' director of player development, responded thusly on his Twitter account:

Funny how Tony Dungy is tracing Manning's neck problem back 5 years ago. I still to this day think it was a good hit and only fined because of who the QB was. Andre pulling him forward and my arm across his chess [sic]going opposite direction and he falls to his knees causing my arm to go higher. Refs saw same thing so that's why there was no flag. Sometimes as a QB you have to know the end of the road and get down instead of trying to make a spectacular throw. I have never been a dirty player so him getting hurt in that game was not me trying to hurt him but rather him being in crazy position. I think he has thrown for a million yards since then and taken a few other hits since 2006. #ItsFootball #Redskins:

Whether Daniels has a point or not, his contention that Williams never set up or knew of cash bounties for hits taking opponents out of games was categorically refuted by Matt Bowen of the National Football Post and the Chicago Tribune.

Bowen played strong safety in the NFL for seven years, and he's now one of the better Xs-and-Os analysts in the business. He played for Williams in 2004 and 2005, and wrote this in the Tribune about Williams' system, among other things:

The cash was kept stashed away at the team facility, in safe hands. After coaches reviewed Sunday's film, we paid it back out. Our accountability, governed by our accounting.

That's right. We got paid for big hits, clean hits by the rule book.

Money came in for more than watching a guy leave the field. We earned extra for interceptions, sacks and forced fumbles. If the till wasn't paid out, we just rolled it over.

Money jumped in the playoffs. A bigger stage equaled more coin. Instead of a few hundred dollars, now you got a thousand, maybe more, depending on the player.

That's the truth. I can't sugarcoat this. It was a system we all bought into.

I ate it up.

"If that meant playing through the whistle or going low on a tackle, I did it," Bowen went on to write, perhaps explaining the conflict between the way players feel -- the way they think they have to feel -- when they're in the game and after they retire.

"I don't regret any part of it. I can't. Williams is the best coach I ever played for in my years in the NFL, a true teacher who developed me as a player. I believed in him. I still do. That will never change."

But as Bowen also wrote, at some point in his life, he's going to have to sit down and tell his kids that "this league isn't for everyone. No doubt, it can be downright disgusting living by a win-at-all-costs mentality."

And whether Williams was the only one doing this or not over the last few seasons (at this point, let's have an I.Q. higher than that of a houseplant and assume that he wasn't), Bowen's stance that Williams was a teacher who developed him as a player puts the bull's eye entirely on his back. It's bad enough that Williams engaged in a system that shortened and ended the careers of some truly great players, and did so with malicious intent. Far worse is the fact that he instilled the idea in the heads of so many of his own players that  this wasn't just the preferable way of doing things -- it was the right way to win.

In a sport just starting to see the danger from the high school level up as parents become more and more concerned about injuries inherent in football and the mindsets that help create them, Gregg Williams' way must send cold shivers down a lot of spines.

Even among those who knew exactly what he was doing.

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