The time is approaching quickly. There are only 76 days left until the NFL kicks off a new season. Training camp will blow by and the battles will soon begin. But before the games are set to be played, the annual Vontaze Burfict question is upon Bengals fans. Is Burfict a dirty player? His passion is evident. Yet that doesn’t sit well with those who play or analyze the game.
Before the 2015 season was officially put to rest, there was a game that propelled Burfict into notoriety. The Bengals were locked in battle with their nemesis. The men in Orange and Black had taken the lead in a game that will never be forgotten. The Pittsburgh Steelers were trailing the Bengals 16-15 in the AFC Wild Card game. To spare fans the gory details, a quick synopsis should suffice.
Burfict was called for an illegal hit on Antonio Brown. The Pittsburgh receiver collapsed on the field and needed help getting to the sideline. There was a series of huge penalties, the Steelers kick the winning field goal, and Burfict is labeled the goat of the game. Adam Jones was his partner in “crime.” Since then, Burfict has been suspended for three games.
That infamous hit has caused fans to look at the Bengals as a band of thugs. During the offseason, the NFL reviewed the Brown hit and various other aspects of the January 9 game. Yes, there were rule changes. Interestingly, the illegal nature of the Burfict hit was questioned by James Harrison. Per CBS Sports, the linebacker gave his honest opinion.
“By rule, as they told me when I went down to New York, that is a penalty. Personally, I don’t think it is because I don’t think you can get out of the way fast enough.”
Harrison’s statement may be a blast from the past, but his play and Burfict’s are similar. Yet the verdict seems to be in on the Bengals WILL backer. ESPN posed the question of Burfict’s playing style to his peers. The results varied but not by much. Accolades about his talent are usually followed by negative remarks.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith didn’t hesitate with a dual opinion of Burfict.
“He’s a heck of a player. He’s a dirty one, too.”
NFL writers Jamison Hensley, Jeremy Fowler, and Pat McManamon all had less than appealing viewpoints about Burfict. But in stark contrast, coaches and teammates aren’t straddling the fence. He gets praise for the passion, desire, and tenacity he exhibits on the field.
“He willed us back into that game. He willed the team,” said linebacker Vincent Rey, per Cincinnati Bengals, describing the Wild Card game. “We all see it. He was willing us to that win.I love playing with him. I love being on the field with him. I’ve said it before. He raises my play. He raises our level as a team. It wasn’t the most brutal hit of the game.”
Bengals brass hired Jim Haslett to tame the anger inside Burfict. His job is to bring “throwback knowledge” to all of the franchise’s talented youngsters. His view of Burfict is interesting. The former linebacker sees the reason his student has to reform his style, but not his passion.
“If I put myself in my shoes, I would have to do the same thing. I would have to reel it in a little bit. Made sure I play more under control. He’s such a powerful guy that if he hits somebody, you think the other guy is going to get hurt. He’s a big powerful guy. That’s the way it is. They’ll look at him. He has to be smart when people start pushing him and shoving him.”
According to The Harris Poll, football is still America’s favorite pastime. Why? The graceful movement of the offense and “bone-crushing” hits of the defense have made the NFL king.
Burfict has a chance to clean up his act. He’s already lost his locs. But he should never lose his passion.
[Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images]