You might remember Anthony Hargrove from this post during Super Bowl XLIV. Hargrove is a recovering addict who emerged from an indefinite NFL suspension to help the New Orleans Saints to their only championship two years ago.
His name has returned to the headlines this week, of course, because he is one of the Saints players penalized and fined for hits on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship Game. Amid an NFL investigation that revealed a bounty program organized by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Sports Illustrated reported this week that Hargrove celebrated Favre's ankle injury from the sidelines.
According to the report, Hargrove slapped hands with teammates and exclaimed: "Favre is out of the game! Favre is done! Favre is done!"
Concerned by the obvious implications therein, Hargrove released an extensive statement Thursday. I'll post it in its entirety here, and my NFC South colleague Pat Yasinskas will do the same. As always, I'll close with a few comments afterwards.
"First of all, the purpose of this statement is simply to address the comments that have been made about me in the media. I will not address anything to do with anyone else but myself.
"In regards to the hit I made on Brett Favre that has been talked about: it was one of about five times I got to him and the only one that was late. I agree it was a late hit, but in the heat of the moment I was simply trying to make a play. I can assure you that when I got up, I was thinking two things, one, that I cost my team, and two, that I might have just cost myself some money if the NFL fined me.
"To put things in perspective, I received a game ball for my play that day and yet got fined while receiving nothing and expecting to receive nothing for the play some keep referencing. Kudos to Brett, he even asked me if that was all I had! Gotta love him.
"And in regards to my comments that have been talked about where I say that Favre is done, I readily agree that it sounds bad in retrospect. A lot of things look bad when we look back and realize how they sound. Trust me, I've said much, much worse. Heck, I probably say worse every day.
"But did I personally want Favre INJURED? Absolutely and categorically NO! Did I feel like we, the Saints, had a better chance of being in the Super Bowl with Favre on the sideline? Of course. Would the Patriots and their fans have probably been excited to see Eli [Manning] on the bench with his foot up whispering that he was done [in Super Bowl XLVI]? Would players on the sideline have made comments to that effect? Right or wrong, I'm guessing yes.
"Probably every Saints fan, player and coach got an adrenaline rush when thinking Minnesota might be in trouble. I said what many people were probably thinking, though maybe I said it in a way that sounded a bit too excited. Those who know me best know that I lean toward the animated side a bit. Okay, a lot! It's who God made me. I do regret saying it, though.
"I have made many mistakes in my life and have paid dearly for some of them, and the late hit and the comments were both mistakes, in my opinion. But players all over the league do the same thing every Sunday, make late hits and say stupid things. But I can say with absolute certainty that neither the late hit nor the comment have anything whatsoever to do with the issue being so hotly discussed in the media."
There are a couple of takeways here from an NFC North perspective.
Hargrove admitted he hit Favre late and celebrated on the sideline when Favre was injured. But without mentioning the word "bounty," Hargrove made clear that he received nothing for the hit, and that his sideline celebration was based on a presumed competitive advantage, not excitement over an injury.
I realize no player would admit to participating in a bounty, but if Hargrove went after Favre to earn extra money, the best play would be to stay as far out of the public eye as possible. This statement strikes me as honest. He is admitting to what happened while providing the kind of context the public wouldn't otherwise know. If he expected or took money for his hit, he would be wise to keep silent.
As we discussed this week, it was obvious at the Superdome that the Saints were determined to get after Favre. The only thing that has changed is we now know it wasn't just a matter of overexuberant players, but that the Saints had an organized program designed to encourage and reward such play. Hargrove's late hit on Favre in that game merited both the penalty and $5,000 fine he received. But the statement draws an important distinction between getting after the quarterback and intentionally hurting him.
I realize Vikings fans might not want to hear from a Saints defender on this issue, but kudos to Hargrove for taking ownership of what he did do while denying what he didn't. That's a lot more than some of the other players involved in this story have done. I think we're all waiting to hear from former defensive end Bobby McCray, who grabbed Favre's ankle illegally and caused the third-quarter injury.