Hall of Fame Game kicks off NFL preseason

Saints win, but ‘bounty-gate’ suspensions hurt

CANTON, OHIO — The sports world is flying with the spectacular Summer Olympics of London, NFL training camps underway, preseason games starting up and MLB getting to the dog days of summer.

I’ve been covering the NFL 34 years now, and for the first time I paid a visit to the Canton, Ohio home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This year’s class of inductees included Curtis Martin, William Roof, Cortez Kennedy, Chris Doleman and Delonte Dawson.

Last year’s Hall of Fame Game was canceled due to the NFL lockout between the owners and the players. It was the first time the game was not played in 45 years. This year the two teams, New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals, kicked off the season preseason. The Saints won 17-10.

Canton’s Fawcett Stadium seats about 22,000 fans. It’s a high school football stadium. Tickets to the game are $60, and the sales of all tickets go to the athletic programs of the high schools in Canton.

The business of football continues to hang over the game because the game was handled by a crew of replacement officials. The replacement refs had college experience; the regular officials were sorely missed. Several times the replacement officials made glaring mistakes that indicated they were in way over their heads.

The Saints have been the single most talked about football team since the Giants Super Bowl win over New England with all the suspensions of players and coaches and management resulting from the NFL’s investigation into the so-called “bounty gate” scandal.

Jonathan Vilma, the Saints’ veteran linebacker, was suspended the entire 2012 season by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Vilma, through the NFL Players Association and in civil court, has maintained that he is innocent and that the league cannot prove his involvement. The NFL has offered Vilma a reduced eight-game suspension on the condition he drops his civil suit set for Friday against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, accusing him of defaming the character of Vilma.

Remember, Saints Head Coach Sean Payton was suspended the entire 2012 season without pay, about $7 million. General Manager Mickey Loomas was suspended eight games. Ex-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was also suspended indefinitely.

Whatever evidence the NFL has on Payton, Williams and Loomas as management supervisors and coaches you would think would link them to the players and their actions — Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove, Scott Fujita and Vilma — who executed the physical bounty program. Apparently the NFL does not want to share any more than they have already publicly.

Vilma is fighting for his career and his tarnished reputation, trying to smoke out the details that led to his suspension. The collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players gives the commissioner sweeping authority over issues of integrity and discipline regarding on- and off- the-field issues.

In time we will see how Vilma’s fate plays out. Usually, where there is smoke there is fire.


Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, and on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm; he also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2), and you can follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry- fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.