The night before Gregg Williams' final game as the New Orleans Saints' defensive coordinator, the since-suspended coach gave a fiery speech to the team's defensive players during which he made specific references to inflicting physical punishment upon several San Francisco 49ers in a postseason game the next day.
In the speech at the team's hotel near the San Francisco Airport, Williams – according to documentary filmmaker Sean Pamphilon – at one point made a hand signal suggesting he would personally pay for a ferocious shot on 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.
Williams also referenced the prospect of his players inflicting a severe knee injury upon San Francisco wideout Michael Crabtree and exhorted them to "put a lick on" backup receiver Kyle Williams in an effort to "find out" if he was still suffering from the effects of a late-December concussion.
Williams' speech, delivered less than two months before the Saints' bounty scandal became public, was revealed to Yahoo! Sports by Pamphilon, who had access to various team functions for much of the 2011 season.
Pamphilon, who directed the critically acclaimed "Run Ricky Run" documentary for ESPN, is working on a project featuring former Saints special teams ace Steve Gleason, who is suffering from ALS. Pamphilon has released an audio recording of the profanity-laced speech (also obtained and listened to by Yahoo! Sports) on his website and said he believes "there's no doubt at all" that Williams put a bounty on Smith in the meeting.
Said Pamphilon: "At one point Williams says, 'We hit [expletive] Smith right there' – then he points under his chin [and continues] – 'remember me.' Then he rubs his thumb against his index and middle fingers – the cash sign – and says, 'I got the first one. I got the first one. Go get it. Go lay that [expletive] out.'
Two weeks ago Williams, who left the Saints days after their 36-32 playoff defeat to the Niners to become the St. Louis Rams' defensive coordinator, was suspended for at least the 2012 season by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Williams did not return voice and text messages left Wednesday on his mobile phone.
Early in the 12-minute speech, Williams told his players, "Kill the head, the body will die" – one of the coach's signature phrases, according to numerous current and former Saints defenders. In this case, Williams designated 49ers halfback Frank Gore as "the head" and then ratcheted up the rhetoric.
"We've got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore's head," Williams told the players. "We want him running sideways. We want his head sideways."
Then, referencing backup halfback Kendall Hunter, Williams continued: "Little 32, we want to knock the [expletive] out of him. He has no idea what he's in for. When he's on the sideline, we've gotta turn that [expletive] over, turn their coaches over, turn the spectators over. Go and get that [expletive] on the sidelines."
After talking about the prospect of players laying a "remember me" shot on Smith, Williams said, "We're gonna swarm. We're gonna dominate the line of scrimmage. And we're gonna kill the [expletive] head. Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head … continue to touch and affect the head."
Late in Williams' speech, he made clear references to the potential infliction of injury upon specific 49ers players. The first player in question was Kyle Williams, who'd suffered several previous concussions.
"We need to find out in the first two series of the game, the little wide receiver, No. 10, about his concussion," Williams said to the Saints' defenders. "We need to [expletive] put a lick on him, move him to decide. He needs to decide."
Then Williams continued that theme in reference to Crabtree, the 10th overall pick of the 2009 NFL draft: "We need to decide whether Crabtree wants to be a fake-ass prima donna or he wants to be a tough guy. We need to find that out, and he becomes human when you [expletive] take out that outside ACL."
At that point, Williams turned his attention to Gore and Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis, saying, "We need to decide on how many times we can meet Frank Gore's head. We need to decide how many times we can bull rush and we can [expletive] clip Vernon Davis' ankles over the pile … respect comes from them fearing us."
Pamphilon said he became uncomfortable when Gregg Williams referenced the player's prior concussion, especially given the subject matter of one of his current projects, "The United States of Football." The documentary, said Pamphilon, is "a cultural examination of football, from pee wee to the pros, which looks at the media's effect upon the way the game is played and celebrated, the proper coaching mentality and the effect of concussions and repetitive head trauma."
Pamphilon said he was further troubled when, following the New York Giants' NFC championship game victory over the 49ers, two Giants players said they'd targeted Williams – whose two fumbles helped doom San Francisco to its overtime defeat – because of his concussion history.
"When [Gregg Williams] was talking about the Gore stuff and saying 'cut off the head,' I was thinking, 'That's a metaphor,' " Pamphilon says. "The thing that really got me was when he said the thing about No. 10 and concussions. I thought, 'Did he just say that?' That was the red flag for me. And then the comments by the Giants made it hit home even harder."
Pamphilon emphasized that Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis were not in the room when Williams delivered his speech. (The filmmaker explained the jumps in the audio posted on his website thusly: "I was shooting off and on with two different cameras. I gave up every single word I shot him saying – in order – and if Gregg Williams wants an independent audio specialist to examine my files, I am cool with that.")
Based on his time around the team and conversations with numerous players, Pamphilon said he believes Williams' words carried tremendous weight with his players.
"During my time with the team, numerous sources told me that Williams used to go around bragging that he had a '[expletive] you' clause in his contract – that he could basically do whatever he wanted in terms of running the defense, with complete autonomy," Pamphilon said. "The message was clear: 'I'm running [expletive]. If you don't do it my way, you'll be gone.' "
Pamphilon, who watched the Saints-49ers game from the New Orleans sidelines, said he doesn't believe Williams' speech translated into any actual harm to San Francisco players.
"I was two feet behind the Saints' bench," he said, "and it looked like they were trying to kill each other every play. But I've watched about 15 NFL games from the sidelines, and I didn't see anything different in that game than I've seen in any other football game. To me, they're all trying to separate guys from the ball and all trying to get big hits that land them on 'SportsCenter' – on every play."
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