We hear it every autumn from football coaches far and near.
“We don't talk about injuries.”
“We don't talk about injuries.”
Bill Snyder. Mack Brown. Mike Gundy. Bob Stoops on occasion. Dozens more.
We thought they were being secretive. Thought they were playing mind games, trying to gain a schematic edge on some hapless foe.
Turns out, they were being protective.
Thanks to Roger Goodell, U.S. marshal, and the audio released by filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, we know a much better reason to hide injuries than keeping foes from knowing who might be too slow to reach the corner.
Football is a gladiator sport in every sense of the word. Maiming is not only allowed, but encouraged, as we have learned not from Goodell's severe punishments of the New Orleans Saints, but from listening to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams exhort his defenders to injure certain 49ers in very specific ways.
And suddenly, hiding injuries takes on a whole new identity. The NFL publicizes injuries, ostensibly to counter black-market gambling information. College football has no policy, so most coaches play it coy.
Coy seems the way to go in the wake of Williams, on the Pamphilon audio, asking his Saints to “take out that outside ACL” of Michael Crabtree. Or imploring the Saints, “every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head (of Alex Smith). Early, affect the head. Continue, touch and hit the head.”
There's no wiggle in that kind of talk. I know Williams apologists say coaches just naturally talk in violent tones, but this wasn't generic kill-your-man motivation. These were specific, calculated missions. The stuff of Spartacus and Maximus.
This was not sport. This was combat.
I don't know how many NFL or college locker rooms hear such venom. Might be most, might be few. I don't know.
But the mere existence of coaches like Gregg Williams means coaches should be careful. In the same way that the intelligent can exploit tactical weaknesses in an opponent, the sinister can exploit health weaknesses. Can and apparently do.
We've long heard wild stories of what happens at the bottom of piles. Of ankles twisted and skin pinched. Now there's evidence of calculated strategy at the bottom of those piles. Masses of inhumanity.
Barry Switzer told me Friday that tight-lipped coaches aren't trying to protect the health of their players. He said it was all about the game plan.
But truth is, Switzer is a little bit of an innocent in these kinds of things. He finds it hard to believe that coaches could act like Gregg Williams.
“I never heard of anybody” playing the bounty game, Switzer said, even though he coached the Dallas Cowboys four seasons. “We wanted to play the game the way it was supposed to be played. No way would I endorse that.
“I would be disappointed in the character of some of my players' buying into the bounty system. I guess some people are obsessed with winning.”
Switzer is even slow to believe the truth about Buddy Ryan's bounties. The 1989 Cowboys said they were told by the Eagles that their coach, Ryan, had offered $200 for knocking out kicker Luis Zendejas and $500 for a KO of quarterback Troy Aikman.
Those bounty stories never have been proven, but Ryan's son, Rob, when coordinating OSU's defenses in the late 1990s, talked a lot about quarterback removal. Not QB stoppage, but QB removal. Knocking out a quarterback from the game.
That mentality, to defeat an opponent by harming an opponent, predates Gregg Williams.
The blackhearted long have been with us in football. But coaches have more reason than ever to keep their teams' injuries to themselves.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.