If you witnessed the game between the Bengals and Steelers on January 9, you have a right to be confused. The crazy atmosphere that took place Saturday night gave special meaning to the term Wildcard game. The antics of the payers and officials were anything but professional and seemed to reach their peak by the final quarter. Will it get better? Don’t hold your breath. The NFL loves the drama, violence, and chippy atmosphere of the rivalry.
There’s not a chance that the happenings of Saturday night’s playoff game will end soon. The NFL loves the attention that certain rivalries seem to attract. When talking about the Steelers and Bengals, it’s a bitter hatred that goes back to November 2, 1970. That’s when the game of football was played with bone jarring hits and players were awakened with smelling salts.
The NFL made money from those hits. There were highlight films made that capitalized on the injuries that players incurred from vicious hits. The projects had endearing names like Bone Crunchers. Just hearing that name reminds one of the operatic overtures that are often associated with football. Those films are still being sold today.
The soap opera that defines the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers is the stuff that creates huge paychecks. According to U.S. News & World Report, the AFC Wildcard game was seen by more than 31 million viewers. That translates into the NFL not doing much to curb the bad officiating and uncontrolled level of unprofessionalism by coaches.
The Bengals and Steelers will go about their football lives as usual. They’ll play twice, as all division rivals do. But the hatred, drama and pettiness won’t be addressed by the NFL gods. If anything is to be done, it will have to come from inside each franchise.
Between the frenzy of emotions and out-of-hand judgment calls, there was actually a good game that shaped up. A highlight film, compiled and edited by the NFL Network, showcases the tension that almost led to the Cincinnati Bengals winning their first playoff game in 25 years. Within that excitement, the rivalry script plays out to perfection. But because of the NFL’s bloodlust for violence and chippiness, it was lost in translation.
There’s anger, frustration, jubilation and of course hard hits. There was also anarchy that wasn’t dealt with. Did Vontaze Burfict lower his shoulder to blow up Antonio Brown? Of course he did. It’s what defensive players are taught to do. Did he do it maliciously? That depends on how you viewed the collision, your knowledge of the game, and what fan base you represent.
When the NFL is compared to the WWE, the similarities are startling. Both entities generate tons of money and they both churn out villains for the public. The Steelers and New England Patriots are the reigning bad boys. Every other team is the underdog trying to overtake the Evil Empire. Coaches run wild on the field, pull hair, and nothing gets done. Ref’s make poor decisions, even with the help of instant replay. Sounds like Raw and Smackdown.
It’s what the NFL loves. Expect to see more of it. Bengals versus Steelers will definitely be on the primetime schedule for next season. The fans are waiting and the NFL will be happy to oblige.
Are the players to blame? They try to make as much money as they can, before their careers are done. They have no stake in the future of a machine that claims it cares about its employees. They make the money and do as told.
It’s time for the NFL to take a stance against the insanity that has gripped its once proud sport. It’s time to hire coaches and officials who will be held to a higher standard and perform that way.
There won’t be many changes made by the NFL, for the 2016 season. The Bengals will be called thugs and the Steelers will continue to bait them with mind games. Illegal hits won’t be defined and marginal calls will still creep into play. At the end of the day, the love of violence and chaos makes the NFL America’s number one sport.
[Feature Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images]