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Bounty hunters are not new in the NFL

Former All-American and pro standout fullback Fred 'Curly' Morrison says cash to take out opposing players was offered in the 1950s.

October 09, 2012|Bill Dwyre
  • An investigation on the New Orleans Saints bounty program revealed that Newton was one of four quarterbacks specifically targeted.
An investigation on the New Orleans Saints bounty program revealed that… (Bob Leverone / Associated…)

There they were Sunday night, during the televised NFL game, their pictures flashed to a nation of TV viewers, with penalties incurred listed below.

They were three known New Orleans Saints evildoers. They might just as well have been on the wall of a post office:

--Sean Payton, Saints head coach, suspended for the season.

--Joe Vitt, Saints assistant coach, suspended for six games.

--Gregg Williams, Saints defensive coordinator, suspended indefinitely.

They were the core of the New Orleans bounty hunters, the men who un-Saintly created or allowed their players to pool money and award it to those who knocked key opponents out of games. The more serious and lasting the injury, the bigger the wad of cash.

The public was horrified.

OK, the public outside of New Orleans probably didn't care much. You can't underestimate the amount of time NFL fans spend dwelling on social injustice. Nor can you overestimate how much they embrace the fact that their game has several thugs, to go along with its many wonderful athletes.

After all, isn't the NFL about hitting and being hit? Don't those who do that best make more money and end up more on ESPN? And isn't that what sports, all sports, are about these days? Getting on ESPN?

But we digress.

Commissioner Roger Goodell's scorched-earth response to Bountygate was understandable in terms of public relations and legal positioning. He is paid as much money as a 1,000-yard running back to be astute at heading off perceived public outcries. He should not be criticized, nor is he here, for being slick, wearing matching ties and always being politically correct.

Nor was the media incorrect when the Great NFL Puppeteer in the matching tie yanked typists and microphone speakers to attention. Outrage dripped. Rants reverberated. Sadly, the newspaper lead that was perhaps most germane and never written would have read: "The NFL, which has promoted, nurtured and thrived on thugs for centuries, announced Monday that it now has irrefutable evidence they exist."

All this brought a chuckle the other day from Fred "Curly" Morrison, who started telling stories, as is his tendency, over a bowl of spaghetti.

Morrison's stories have credibility because they come from somebody who has, when it comes to the NFL, been there and done that. He was an All-American at Ohio State, a Pro Bowl-level performer in his seven years in the NFL with the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns, a Rose Bowl Hall of Fame member, and a network commentator and sales executive involved in the first network rights fees (CBS) of the NFL. He was also general manager of the L.A. Express in the ill-fated United States Football League in the early 1980s.

Morrison turned 86 on Sunday, but the mind still goes up the middle as effectively as the body did in his playing days.

"Bounties?" Morrison snorted. "Let me tell you about bounties."

It is suddenly the early 1950s, when Morrison was the Bears' fullback.

"We played the Chicago Cardinals in one of our last games of the '50 season," Morrison says. "But we were in the playoffs and all our attention is on the Rams, who ended up beating us in the first round. The next season, one of our first games is with the Cardinals and George Halas gets out the game film of the year before. Nobody had looked at it. It goes on. We are bored until we get to the last play of the game. Halas shouts for the tape to be stopped.

"He plays it back, again and again. We had run a reverse. Our Ed Sprinkle got a great block on one of the Cardinals and then we see Charley Trippi, Cardinals running back, bend over Sprinkle, who was down on all fours, and punch him out. Smashed his nose. Knocked him out.

"Halas is furious. He yells for the lights to be turned on. He talks about how he has always had respect for Trippi, but he will not tolerate that kind of play.

"Then he says, 'I will give $50, cash, to the first player who takes out Trippi."

The first NFL bounty? Does Goodell have retroactive powers?

Morrison says the Bears chased Trippi for the entire game, and, to his memory, nobody got to the future Hall of Fame member. He says four years later, when he was with the Browns, the Detroit Lions' Jim David came into a pile knees first and took out one of their young running backs.

"We were out for payback the rest of the game," Morrison says, "but Otto Graham [Browns quarterback] kept telling us to wait until the end. On the last play, he said it was time, that he would roll out one way and we could go after David.

"But David saw us coming, took off down the sideline, around the goal posts and into the locker room. We never caught him. When Paul Brown [Browns coach] got into the locker room, he lambasted us about ruining the image of the Browns."

David's nickname was "the Hatchet." Morrison says, "For all I know, he is still running." Google says he stopped in 2007, when he died at 79.

Sprinkle had two nicknames: "The Meanest Man in the NFL" and "the Claw." Google says he is 89 and Trippi is 90.

Morrison says he loves the NFL, hates what it has done to many of his friends, whose injuries and brain damage make their later lives miserable, and, although not condoning it, laughs off this bounty stuff.

His message is simple. His game has never been mistaken, nor will it ever be, for ballet.

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