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Bushrod: Saints are not a dirty team

BY TAFT COGHILL JR.

After the New Orleans Saints captured Super Bowl XLIV two years ago, Jermon Bushrod paraded around Sun Life Stadium in Miami, waving his native King George County flag.

The Saints’ Pro Bowl left tackle said in a recent interview with The Free Lance–Star that no set of circumstances can stain the moment for him.

That includes the revelations that former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams operated a bounty program during his four-year tenure, including the memorable Super Bowl run.

“Absolutely not,” Bushrod said when asked if that takes away from what the Saints accomplished. “People that play this game feel the exact same way we do. We worked as hard as anybody in this league. So for anybody to even speculate that anything we’ve done is tainted is pretty much disrespectful.”

The NFL suspended Williams indefinitely last month because a lengthy investigation revealed the Saints operated a program in which players were paid bonuses for knocking specific opponents out of games.

Saints coach Sean Payton has been suspended for all of next season.

General manager Mickey Loomis has been suspended eight games, while assistant coach Joe Vitt must sit out the first six contests. All are reportedly appealing the decision.

The Saints were also fined $500,000 and were docked two second-round draft picks.

Bushrod, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, said the severity of the punishments was “a huge shock.”

“Obviously what was going on wasn’t great, but I feel like it was definitely blown out of proportion,” Bushrod said. “At the end of the day, we’re not a dirty team. A lot of teams respect us, respect what we do. We’re getting a bad rap. We didn’t go out with the intention to try to harm anybody at all.”

Bushrod said as an offensive player he had no knowledge of what he considers a pay-for-performance system.

He said the first time he heard of it was when it was reported an investigation was being conducted.

He said similar scenarios unfold “at every level of football.”

He said players often get in-house incentives for interceptions, forced fumbles and recovered fumbles.

That’s also prohibited by NFL rules.

“It’s something that’s not uncommon in our league,” Bushrod said. “It happens in high school football. It happens in Peewee football. It’s just a little bit of incentive to go play harder. Nobody would go out there with the intention to hurt somebody else, because that’s not how we play. I wouldn’t even feel right being a part of something like that.”

Bushrod acknowledged “the way Gregg had it laid out did kind of go too far.”

He said it will be strange if Payton isn’t around for a full season, but it’s something the Saints may have to get used to, pending the result of his appeal.

Bushrod said the Saints may have to lean on the experience they gained without Payton last season.

The coach missed practice time and had to call plays from the booth instead of the sideline for a stretch after he suffered a torn MCL and broken leg following a collision in a loss to Tampa Bay.

“We’ve got to continue to stay positive,” Bushrod said. “That’s all we can do about it. We have to continue to move on, because we know our goals, we know our aspirations. Coach isn’t out there playing. He is helping us with the scheme and getting us in the right position to make plays. But we have to get the job done.”

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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