I haven’t covered the Saints bounty kerfluffle here because it’s a non-issue for me. Even with the new revelations of Gregg Williams asking players to target the head, I don’t care. I didn’t really care when it was revealed the Hurricanes had a bounty out on Chris Rix, other than to marvel at its ineffectiveness. My feeling is that football is an inherently violent and chaotic game, and bounties have a miniscule effect on that violence. And pictures like this demonstrate just how violent and chaotic the game can be on any given play.
Let’s just inventory what we can see here, moving from left to right.
On the far left at the top, one of the very few players who seems to be sturdily on two feet. An observer.
Far left bottom: a prone tackler. Or, more accurately, his empty hands, contacting exactly no part of the ball carrier.
Center we have the ball carrier, Chris Thompson, in mid-air along the horizontal plane. Chunks of turf suspended around his knee, presumably where his feet very recently were and should probably still be. His right hand extends down, fruitlessly searching for the ground. (Given the ease with which a wrist fractures in similar situations, probably not a good idea.) At this point, Thompson remains in possession, though with the onrushing defender’s knee poised inches from the ball, that possession could be fleeting.
Also center we have the tackler, in stride, about to wrap up Thompson. Improbably (though it would be impossibly if there weren’t photographic evidence), while the defender is upright and only beginning the tackle, his head is turned down, chin against chest, facemask flush against Thompson’s horizontal back. Surely he’s lowered his head along with his shoulders to make the hit, but the crown of his helmet is so far below the trajectory of his shoulder pads, it looks unnatural. He actually looks an MMA fighter, crumpled and concussed from a blow they don’t know has already knocked them out. His head and hands are limp, like he just fell asleep on the ball carrier. Even if the tackler isn’t injured, the potential for him to be is substantial. Even Uncle Luke level bounties aren’t worth compromising one’s own safety with bad tackling form.
Far behind the tackle is another, seemingly upright defender. In front of him, however, is a blocker, unconnected with the earth. I know for a fact that Nick O’Leary (#35), while a big tight end, is not big enough to bend at the waist and still be taller than the defensive linemen around him. Plus, I believe that’s his left foot below, inches above the grass. How he became airborne is a mystery – he’s engaged with a defensive player to his left, but that player seems too far away to lift O’Leary.
That defensive player is, however, receiving a courteous foot to the ass from his own teammate, who is hitting the ground behind him. The prone defender is, in turn, engaged with a blocker, Jacob Fahrenkrug (#60), who appears as in-flight as his fellow Noles. With perhaps only his right shoulder on the ground, Fahrenkrug is curled around the upper body of the prone defender and looks likely to land on the defender’s head. How that particular defender ended up with his helmet on the turf and his feet in his teammate’s ass is anyone’s guess.
Again, this is one instant (of millions) in one game (of thousands) that, to my knowledge, resulted in no injuries. Look at it: it’s a snapshot of mayhem. It seems miraculous that five of the eight players pictured could hop up and walk around after a play like this. And plays like this happen all the time. With no bounties involved. As fans, we must come to terms with the fact that our favorite sport has the capacity and wherewithal to maim its participants. And with the fact that there is already a financial stake in being the injurer rather than the injured. It is silly to pretend that injurious capacity only arises when a few hundred or a few thousand dollars are floating around the locker room.