In February 2012 - two years after winning their first Super Bowl - the New Orleans Saints were sacked with a bombshell allegation that stunned the football world. The accusation: the team paid defenders to target and injure opposing players.
The NFL suspended Saints head coach Sean Payton for the entire season and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely. Saints linebacker Jonathon Vilma was banned for the season and three other players also received suspensions for their roles in the alleged bounty system. (All four appealed). NFL investigators said that Vilma and defensive end Will Smith were ring-leaders of the cash-for-hits program that rewarded injurious tackles labeled as "cart-offs" and "knockouts." Specifically, the league accused Vilma of putting a $10,000 bounty on then-Vikings quarterback Brett Favre during the January 2010 NFC Championship Game.
After a protracted legal and PR battle, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned the suspensions of four current and former Saints players in early December.
Tagliabue, however, found that three of the players engaged in conduct detrimental to the league and chided the team's coaches.
"Unlike Saints' broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects," said a portion of ruling. "My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell's findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines. However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints' organization."
Saints quarterback Drew Brees, an outspoken defender of his coach and team amid the scandal, said he was happy the suspensions were vacated but added that "there are some things that can never be taken back."