Steelers-Bengals Rivalry Goes Too Far

The unsportsmanlike actions of Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals players, coaches, and fans in their Jan. 9 playoff game raises some questions about what coaches must do to keep their players in check, as well as proper behavior at a football game.

Jake Matise, Columnist

On Jan. 9, The Pittsburgh Steelers took on the Cincinnati Bengals in the opening round of the National Football League (NFL) playoffs. There is always bad blood between these two division rivals, and tempers flare almost every time they play, but this game gave a whole new meaning to the term “unsportsmanlike conduct,” and the penalties the Bengals received for such misconduct cost them the game and their season.

The game began innocently enough, with neither team being able to get anything going on offense, and looked to be a close defensive battle. However, near the end of the second quarter, a minor altercation broke out on the sidelines. After Bengals cornerback Reggie Nelson made a tackle down the sideline, he stumbled into the Steelers bench. He bumped into Steelers coach Mike Munchak on the sideline, but it didn’t appear to be intentional. Munchak then appeared to grab Nelson’s hair, which may or may not have been by accident. It seemed like that would be the end of the tension, but it was only just beginning.

The Bengals were down 6-0 going into the third quarter, and yet another fight almost broke out at the end of the quarter, following a vicious helmet-to helmet hit by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier that knocked Bengals running back Giovani Bernard out of the game. The Bengals responded later by injuring Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As Roethlisberger was being carted off the field, Bengals fans began to throw trash at him before he left for the locker room. Fans were reported fighting each other throughout the game, and multiple arrests were made by the Cincinnati police department. This classless display was a disgrace to the Bengals organization. I understand that this was a playoff game against a rival opponent, but the fans need to at least show some respect. Something like this makes an entire organization look bad.

The game began to spiral into an all-out war, where things got heated and some players on the Bengals side completely lost their cool. The Bengals had a 16-15 lead with a mere 22 seconds left in the game. Suddenly, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict landed a completely unnecessary and malicious hit on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. The pass to Brown had already gone past him and no Steelers playing had any chance of making the catch when Burfict hit Brown hard in the helmet. The hit resulted in a 15 yard penalty, moving the Steelers into field goal range. As Brown was being helped off the field, Bengals cornerback Adam Jones was got into an altercation with Steelers coach Joey Porter. The Bengals were hit with another 15 yard penalty, which set Pittsburgh up for an easy game-winning field goal.

This game was a complete and utter discredit, and is a perfect example of what happens when players lose their self-control and the coaches stand by and let it happen. The coaches not only did nothing to stop the increasing tension, but even joined in and made it even worse. In fact, the actions of the players were even more disturbing than previously thought, following the recent report that Bengals players were spitting on Steelers players on multiple occasions over the course of the game.

The NFL needs to address the serious issues that occurred in the game as soon as possible, and must give out some sort of punishment to those involved. An important step has already been taken with the almost immediate suspension of Vontaze Burfict for “repeated violations of player safety rules.” Burfict will now have to watch his team’s first three games next year from the sidelines, which is  definitely an appropriate punishment, considering this is not the first time he has made an illegal hit in a game. Burfict has been fined nearly $70,000 this year for two illegal hits that caused injuries in the regular season, so the NFL wasn’t going to go easy on him. I still believe every player and coach that had some involvement in the inappropriate conduct during the game needs to receive some sort of punishment by form of a fine, suspension, or both.

It really is a shame that players and coaches that couldn’t control themselves turned what could have been an exciting game into a downright disgrace for their organizations and the NFL. The dirty play from Burfict could jeopardize the Steelers Super Bowl hopes if Antonio Brown is unable to play in their next game against the Denver Broncos. Brown sustained a concussion from Burfict’s hit and his ability to play is definitely in question. If the players had been able to keep themselves in check, this game could have had a completely different outcome.