The San Francisco 49ers won’t face the New Orleans Saints this season until Nov. 25, three days after Thanksgiving.
But don’t expect the two teams to do any holiday bonding that Sunday. Judging by the war of words already being played out on Twitter and through the media, the 49ers-Saints game will be more like a Sunday afternoon dinner with the Hatfields and McCoys.
On Monday, 49ers safety Donte Whitner took a verbal shot at the Saints and their “Bountygate” scandal in which defensive coordinator Gregg Williams reportedly offered bounties to his players who inflicted injuries on opponents.
On Tuesday, the Saints fired back.
It’s only one week into training camp, and already the teams likely have that Nov. 25 date in New Orleans circled on their schedules.
Whitner on Monday talked to reporters about his knockout hit on Saints running back Pierre Thomas in the 49ers’ playoff victory over the Saints in January, and said good defensive teams don’t need a bounty program to motivate their play.
The hit not only knocked Thomas from the game, but forced a fumble and set the tone for San Francisco’s 36-32 victory.
In particular, Whitner praised 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for prepping his unit without offering bounties for hits that injure opponents.
“He’s the same guy he is each and every game, and you can appreciate that,” Whitner told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. “Because some coaches get into that moment the night before the game, the day of the game, and you really don’t know who they are. They change into another person. Because they’re as nervous or even more nervous than the players are. But you don’t really see that with Vic.
“If you have the right type of guys in that room, you don’t have to set bounties or pay money for guys to play physical and play hard. It’s going to come naturally. That’s the type of guys we have on our defense. That’s why we don’t have to do those type of things.”
On Tuesday, Saints linebacker Scott Shanle fired back at Whitner.
“Guy needs to shut his mouth and mind his own business,” he responded on Twitter. “Don’t remember them winning the superbowl. U still ringless. We got one and working on two now. Try to keep up.”
When the teams meet at the Superdome in November, Shanle and Whitner will be there, but a couple of key figures from their last meeting in January will be notably absent. Saints head coach Sean Payton has been suspended for the season by the NFL for his part in Bountygate, and Williams has been suspended indefinitely.
Whitner, meanwhile, comes into this training camp after his best season in the NFL and his first with the 49ers. He proved to be a key addition as a free agent from the Buffalo Bills and lived up to his reputation as a hard hitter. The hit on Thomas was perhaps the most notable, but there were big hits throughout the year.
Whitner told reporters that he’s been complimented and asked about his hit on Thomas in the six months since it happened.
“Almost every day no matter where I go, people are always coming up,” Whitner told the Associated Press. “They say so many things like, ‘Oh, my God. I can’t believe you knocked out Pierre Thomas.’ Or, ‘I can’t believe it. It was such a big play.’ Or, ‘You changed the game.’ ”