Two key people in the still unfolding bounty case against the Saints have said that they didn’t say what they NFL says they said.

First, let’s start with Anthony Hargrove, the former Saint and current Packer who’s set to sit out for eight games this fall. One of the primary pieces of evidence the league has against Hargrove is audio of his voice on a tape during the Saints’ 2009 NFC Championship game against the Vikings. After a play when Brett Favre was hit the Saints sideline thought he may have injured his leg, and on the tape Hargrove can allegedly be heard saying to teammate Bobby McCray “Bobby, give me my money!”

The problem, according to Hargrove, is simple: the voice on the tape isn’t his.

In a lengthy statement issued earlier today that includes a quality Bill Clinton sex reference, Hargrove flatly denied saying those words, or having any involvement whatsoever in a pay-for-performance scheme. He accused the league of playing politics, and skillfully and deceptively painting a picture of guilt, with both himself and the three other current and former Saints players (Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, and Will Smith) cast as the victims. Hargrove said that the picture of guil Roger Goodell has painted is so breathtakingly beautiful that it somewhat resembles the Mona Lisa, or something.

But when he finally gets to the heart of the matter, the poetic wording stops, and Hargrove’s claim is quite simple.

Here’s the problem with that. It wasn’t me. That’s right. The NFL got their evidence all wrong. In their rush to convict me, they made a very serious error. Is it intentional? I don’t know. But one thing I do know with absolute certainty…it…was…not…me! Like I said, lean in closer, look closer, listen closer. It is not my voice. Anyone who knows me well knows that it is not me. But the NFL does not know me well. They simply make assumptions. With … my … life.

That’s all you’re giving us, Anthony? If you’re going to dedicate over 1,500 words to a passionate and detailed public defense, please advance us beyond the hearsay. He may try to do that with voice recognition software, but until then we’re still stuck in a battle of words, a point we’ve been at so long that it’s quickly becoming clear Goodell’s legacy won’t be the lockout and his handling of it. Instead it’ll be player discipline, and his actions during a set of historic and precedent-setting suspensions.

But here’s where the hearsay gets interesting, and difficult to ignore. Plenty of damning evidence was released last night implicating the Saints and the four players in question, but much of the evidence specifically relating to Vilma–the player whose one-year punishment is the longest–came from Mike Ornstein, a former close friend of Sean Payton’s who had ties to the Saints.

An important piece of the evidence indicates that Ornstein corroborated Vilma’s involvement in the bounties, saying that the linebacker placed $10,000 on Favre’s head (or leg, arm, foot, whatever). Now Ornstein is backtracking…fast.

He told PFT that he didn’t say anything to the NFL regarding a bounty payment by Vilma. Nothing at all.

“I never corroborated $10,000,” Ornstein said.  “The only thing that I told them was that we had the [pregame] meeting, we jumped around, we screamed around, and I never saw [Vilma] offer one dime.  And I never heard him say it.”

This casts looming doubt over Ornstein’s statements, because he could have lied in his original testimony, or he could be lying now. We don’t know, and we’ll probably never know, but between this and Hargrove’s claim there’s been two holes poked in the league’s evidence today, although the size of those holes–especially the one made by Hargrove–remains quite debatable. However, Goodell still has more than enough evidence in the slides obtained directly from the Saints’ computers that show how much is owing for “whacks” and “cart-offs.”

Slides like this one…

And this one…