Vikes, Saints had off-the-field help
By DAVE CAMPBELL
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Get ready for the Bumetanide Bowl, secretly sponsored by your favorite supplement store.
OK, so that's a stretch, but both the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints had some off-the-field help from the courts this season prior to their arrival at the NFC championship game.
It's impossible to gauge the theoretical effect a suspension of two starting defensive linemen would have had on each team's first four games, victories all for the Vikings (13-4) and Saints (14-3).
Minnesota tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams and New Orleans ends Charles Grant and Will Smith were all vital players, though, and their collective absences would have hurt.
"They're huge. They eat double teams," said Vikings All-Pro end Jared Allen, who benefits from the commanding presence of the Williamses as much as any player. "Those two in the middle make it extremely important for us. We can come around the edge all we want, but if the quarterback's not there we're just chasing ghosts."
Kevin Williams was also an All-Pro pick this season, and Pat Williams has been to three Pro Bowls. For the Saints, Smith ranked fifth in the league with 13 sacks and led his team with 23 quarterback hurries. Grant, who had 5 1/2 sacks, is out for the playoffs because of a torn triceps muscle.
"If you look across the board, we all had pretty good seasons," Smith said. "Just being able to be out there to help my team to get where we're at today, I think it plays a huge part. So I'm happy that I didn't have to miss any time."
The Williamses, Grant and Smith each tested positive in 2008 for the banned diuretic bumetanide, which can be used to mask steroid use. They faced a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances, before blocking the punishment with legal action.
They're not accused of taking steroids, but rather a weight loss supplement StarCaps. The label did not list bumetanide as an ingredient, but the league enforced a no-tolerance policy that makes players responsible for what they put in their bodies.
The union and the Williamses argued the punishment was unjust. After a trip though the federal courts, the case is back in state court in Minnesota where they're contending the suspensions would violate protections for employees under Minnesota law regarding workplace drug testing. The federal courts ruled that the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, which includes drug testing, doesn't trump state law.
When a state judge decided last year to delay those proceedings until after the season, the NFL also allowed Grant and Smith to play out of fairness and put their suspensions on hold as well.
The case is scheduled to go to trial in March.
"There are not a lot of people willing to fight the boss the way Kevin and Pat have been willing to fight the NFL," said New York-based attorney Peter Ginsberg, who is representing the Williamses. "We're confident that Kevin and Pat will ultimately prevail. It's been a battle worth fighting, and it's great to see them still playing football."
The NFL asked a federal appeals court for a rehearing of the case to keep it out of state court, but that was denied. The NFL has not decided whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, said league spokesman Greg Aiello, but the NFL pointed to a split 7-4 decision by the appeals court as support for its side.
League commissioner Roger Goodell even went to Congress to argue the point that pro sports need uniform anti-doping standards and can't be subject to different sets of state laws for each team.
So, as the legal wheels continue to turn ever so slowly, the Vikings will play the Saints on Sunday for a spot in the Super Bowl. As for the potential diversion of a pending court case, well, forget it.
"I don't worry about that. That's a couple years old," Pat Williams said. "Whatever happens happens. That's out of my mind now."
His backup, Jimmy Kennedy, was even more adamant.
"We don't talk about it, and to be honest I don't think we care," Kennedy said. "It's a distraction that people probably bring up now that we're in the playoffs."