METAIRIE -- One of the most difficult things about trying to chronicle a provocative, evolving story is finding informed sources who speak the truth.
For me, that someone is veteran linebacker Scott Shanle, who took a few moments Tuesday to share his insights on one of the most compelling sports stories of our time: the Bounty scandal, which has rocked the very foundation of the New Orleans Saints organization since early March.
It seems a day rarely passes now when the Bounty scandal doesn't take a new twist or turn.
Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith.
Jonathan Vilma's defamation suit against the commissioner.
The Special Master.
And so on and so forth.
I spoke to Shanle under one condition between minicamp workouts Tuesday -- that he be honest. I'd rather him say nothing than lie.
He agreed to the ground rules.
SportsNOLA.com: Is there a ledger that allegedly contains the bounty payouts?
Shanle: I have no idea. I don't even know who the guy is who went and told the league about a Ledger. I mean what would prevent a disgruntled person from making up the Ledger story. How do you prove it? I mean if you saw a guy give another guy money, or if you turned on the tape and saw this guy take out a guy, you might have something. But there is none of that.
SportsNOLA.com: Did you ever see the ledger?
Shanle: No. I'm being honest. We had a 'performance-based pool' that had 'big hits' in it. That's what I mean: Are you telling me that guys are going to turn 'big hits' into an injury for $500 and run the risk of getting fined $50,000 by the NFL for a $500 pay day. It doesn't make sense. I think some people just want to believe it is a big deal. I think some people want to see Jonathan Vilma's picture on Sports Illustrated. I think some people want to think that every night we sat in a meeting room before a game and Drew (Brees) wrote Xs through people's faces. It's more interesting to do that.
SportsNOLA.com: Did you ever earn money from the bounty pool?
Shanle: From the 'performance-for-pay' pool? Yeah. That's what drives me crazy about this bounty thing. We called it a performance pool. Other people call it a Bounty pool.
SportsNOLA.com: How much did you earn?
Shanle: There was a point there when I was down $1,000, $2,000 last year in the performance-based pool. You'd get paid for fumble recoveries, interceptions, whatever, but if you messed up and you didn't make enough big plays you were in the negative.
SportsNOLA.com: Did you ever get ahead, in the black, if you will?
Shanle: Yeah, I made it out by the end of the year.
SportsNOLA.com: What was your biggest payday?
Shanle: I'd get $500 for fumbles, interceptions. Turnovers were big but you could make $100 on a 'big hit.' But if the media would have labeled it as a performance-based pool and called it that, it wouldn't have been as juicy or as interesting. We wouldn't have had a problem with that. But when the national media labeled it a bounty pool, wait a minute. It wasn't a bounty pool. In '09 it was the same thing. That's what we did.
SportsNOLA.com: Did Jonathan Vilma offer a $10,000 bounty on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, essentially to take him out of the NFC championship game, as it has been alleged by the league?
Shanle: If he did, it didn't happen in front of the team. Now, I don't know if guys had side bets with each other, like 'I'll give you $500 for a sack here or a sack there.' I don't know what kind of side bets went on ... But we never went outside the white lines. They show all these plays on TV that are connected to the Bounty Gate, and all I'm seeing are football plays. I don't see any flags. I don't see anybody getting hit late, out of bounds, and they are saying these plays represent the bounty pool. The saddest thing is this whole thing got blown way out of proportion, and I think it was blown out of proportion by the league to make an example out of us. It's sad that certain guys got made an example the way they did.
SportsNOLA.com: Will the real story -- the whole story -- ever come out?
Shanle: As time has gone on here, I find more fans who aren't (necessarily) Saints fans and more media people who aren't biased against the Saints, are coming around and thinking maybe there isn't much to this thing. When it goes on this long and you haven't given any concrete evidence as to why you suspended people for as long as you did, it kind of makes people start to doubt and wonder how much evidence there is. You feel like a desperate person when you say 'prove it.' But turn on the tape and show us where we were playing outside the game of football and hurting people, then you might have a case. But to turn a performance-pool into a bounty-pool and a bounty culture and this and that, I think that has been the most offensive part of this story.
SportsNOLA.com: In a twisted sense, your team and organization have almost become a marked group, a football villian, a team that has gone from a warm, fuzzy, feel-good story as Super Bowl champions to a team that everyone loves to hate. And Williams' seems to be Public Enemy No. 1. Agree or disagree?
Shanle: The thing is Gregg Williams has been coaching in the NFL for 30-some years. He is regarded as one of the best defensive minds in football. To me, Gregg is one of the best motivators in the NFL. He gets guys to play hard and nasty and aggressive for 16 weeks in row. That is not an easy task and Gregg was able to do that. Did Gregg say some of that stuff (on the Pamphilon tape prior to the Saints-49ers' divisional game in January)? Absolutely. But Gregg would get you to go to a place mentally that you couldn't get to just sitting in a room and chit-chatting. Gregg would say wild things. I can remember the first time that Gregg talked to us as a defense -- remember, we were going from (former Saints defensive coordinator) Gary Gibbs who was a mild-mannered guy, to Gregg Williams who was anything but mild-mannered. And Gregg got up there and talked for 45 minutes. Scott Fujita and I looked at each other and we thought, 'this guy is nuts.' But this is Gregg Williams and you accepted him for who he is. This is how he motivates his defense. He gets you to play fast, he gets you to play violent and, in the process of playing football, some people get hurt.
SportsNOLA.com: Do some people inside the Saints organization resent Williams and hold him responsible for what has transpired?
Shanle: I can only speak for myself. I think it's easy to look back at the facts, especially when his audio tape came out, and you just kind of put your hand in your head and go, 'Oh no!' But, we wouldn't have won the games we did and played the way we did if Gregg hadn't coached and said things like that. Like I said, Gregg is a great motivator. He got us to play nasty and together, and the chemistry he created on defense when he was here, we played outstanding together. I remember one of the things he told us, It's the 'I' and the 'me' generation, and he hated that s**t. He always said that. He made you believe if you weren't a team guy, you weren't going to play for him.
SportsNOLA.com: How do you think Gregg Williams will be remembered by the Saints organization?
Shanle: It's sad to me how things have turned out because in three years with Gregg we accomplished a lot. In Gregg's first year, we won a Super Bowl and now it feels like there's forever a wedge driven between the players/organization and Gregg Williams. The sad thing is 10, 20, years from now when we have a Super Bowl reunion, I'm just hoping that Gregg Williams would be there because he's a big part of what we accomplished. He brought an identity to us in '09 and an attitude, and I hope this whole bounty thing, doesn't ruin relationships and memories.