The 49ers divisional round playoff match up against the New Orleans Saints in 2011 is one that will forever live in the annals of this city's sports history. San Francisco was a team finally on the upswing after nine long years of mediocrity. New Orleans was a team at the peak of their dominance. Few chose the 49ers to move on, and yet against all odds, David took down Goliath. It was a special moment in the life of any 49ers faithful.
In the wake of the Saints' Bountygate scandal, the 49ers' playoff victory became all the more sweet. But the latest leak of Gregg Williams's pre-game speech to the Saints defensive players has placed that tilt on a entirely different plane.
Sean Pamphilon, a documentary filmmaker, was with the Saints working on a documentary on former special teamer Steve Gleason when he recorded this audio. What he discovered, and has now shared with Yahoo Sports, is a side of football that most of us only understood to exist in films like "Any Given Sunday." Pamphilon exposed the darkest side of the NFL locker room to the world.
In the audio, Williams makes repeated references to "killing the head" so that the "body will die." This is an obvious reference to taking out the 49ers primary game changers, but his speech doesn't end with vague metaphors. He refers to Frank Gore, saying "We want him running sideways. We want his HEAD sideways."
Okay, so this is probably coachspeak. Perhaps sensational talk to hype his players up. But keep listening.
He goes on to target Alex Smith specifically, demanding that his players hit him "right here," pointing to his chin. Then he lets them know, "Remember me. I've got the first one," rubbing his fingers together to indicate a financial reward. Williams also makes reference to the 49ers-Saints preseason match up in which they blitzed Alex Smith relentlessly, urging his defensemen to repeat the performance.
He didn't stop there, next targeting Kyle Williams. “We need to find out in the first two series of the game, the little wide receiver, No. 10, about his concussion,” he said. “We need to [expletive] put a lick on him, move him to decide. He needs to decide.”
Then he went after both Michael Crabtree's knee and his character: “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.” I don’t have an issue with calling him a premadonna. I do have an issue with targeting his outside (?) ACL.
Finally it was Vernon Davis, and apparently Williams's tactic was to "decide how many times we can bull rush and we can [expletive] clip Vernon Davis’ ankles over the pile."
All that posturing turned out to be for naught. Frank Gore got his licks, but he eventually chunked up the Saints defense. He was critical in converting downs twice on the 49ers game winning drive. Michael Crabtree caught the second touchdown of the game, completely untouched by Saints defenders en route to the end zone. Kendall Hunter and Kyle Williams proved to be of little consequence, but they also emerged with their respective “heads” intact. As for Alex Smith and Vernon Davis? I don't think I need to tell you what kind of game they had.
While at first glance this audio is inflammatory, the outcome of the game is what's important. The 49ers defense, although they surrendered a pretty hefty portion of points, emerged as the more stifling squad (See: Donte Whitner v. Pierre Thomas). While the 49ers were preparing to face off with the New York Giants for the NFC Championship game, Gregg Williams was unknowingly preparing for the likely end of his career. Despite the Saints' best attempts to "kill the head," the 49ers were the ones who owned that afternoon at Candlestick Park, and they came out the other end no worse for the wear.
If that game proved anything, it's that the NFL doesn't need dirty play to survive. In fact, given that the 49ers moved on to be a Super Bowl contender with a physical and fair defensive game plan, it proved that a bounty system doesn't truly provide a team with any distinct advantage. Football is about having the will to win rather than the will to injure. The game of football, as in life, is not always fair. But go back and watch tape of Gregg Williams's face after Vernon Davis's touchdown; there will be no doubt whose head was truly killed.