In a makeshift meeting room, with the whisper of evening traffic pouring in from the Beltway, we laid our bounties on opposing players. We targeted big names, our sights set on taking them out of the game.
The pot was collected throughout the season through fines. Show up late? Ding. Blow an assignment during practice? Again. Walk on the field with your chinstrap unbuckled. Again. Break the rules, you gave to the bank.
The cash was kept stashed away at the team facility, in safe hands. After coaches reviewed Sunday's film, we paid it back out. Our accountability, governed by our accounting.
That's right. We got paid for big hits, clean hits by the rule book.
Money came in for more than watching a guy leave the field. We earned extra for interceptions, sacks and forced fumbles. If the till wasn't paid out, we just rolled it over.
Money jumped in the playoffs. A bigger stage equaled more coin. Instead of a few hundred dollars, now you got a thousand, maybe more, depending on the player.
That's the truth. I can't sugarcoat this. It was a system we all bought into.
I ate it up.
It's hard not to, not when you're playing for a coach like Gregg Williams, my defensive coordinator while I was with the Washington Redskins.
Williams is an excellent motivator. You do what he wants: play tough, push the envelope and carry a swagger that every opponent sees on tape. When you lined up against us, you knew we were coming after you. It was our gig, our plan, our way to motivate, to extra-motivate.
I wanted to be That Guy for him, playing the game with an attitude opposing players absolutely feared. If that meant playing through the whistle or going low on a tackle, I did it.
I don't regret any part of it. I can't. Williams is the best coach I ever played for in my years in the NFL, a true teacher who developed me as a player. I believed in him. I still do. That will never change.
Your career exists in a short window, one that starts closing the moment it opens. If making a play to impress a coach or win a game pushes that window up an inch before it slams back down on your fingers, then you do what has to be done.
Some day, when my three sons grow up, I will make clear to them that this league isn't for everyone. No doubt, it can be downright disgusting living by a win-at-all-costs mentality. It's a fundamental part of the NFL's culture that isn't talked about outside of team facilities.
I'm not saying it's right. Or ethical. But the NFL isn't little league football with neighborhood dads playing head coach. This is the business of winning. If that means stepping over some line, you do it.
Bounties, cheap shots, whatever you want to call them, they are a part of this game. It is an ugly tradition that was exposed Friday with Williams front and center from his time coaching the defense in New Orleans. But don't peg this on him alone. You will find it in plenty of NFL cities.
Win or else. That's the drill.
Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. You also can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com