Only the players and coaches behind the closed doors of their locker room can fully explain how fueling "bulletin board material" really is when it comes to clashing with an opponent. When an interesting comment is tossed out there from someone associated with a professional sports organization, the media goes ballistic and often spins it into a huge story, while usually painting a picture of someone slighting another prominent sports figure.
It's an oddity that the media and public creates with athletes and coaches. Most expect and even prefer the athletes to be robots, spewing "coach-speak" and a slew of mindless cliches. There are some that break from the norm though, and the public embrace it when guys like Chad Ochocinco and Richard Sherman pop off an interesting contradiction from so many other examples of people getting clamped down on and having their wrists slapped.
Over the past five weeks, a couple of people involved with the Cincinnati Bengals have had some dirty laundry aired out to the public in the form of some jabbing comments towards the Cleveland Browns. On November 6th, the teams clashed at Paul Brown Stadium for the first of two annual meetings and the former division doormat took it to Cincinnati on their home turf. Cleveland rode three Andy Dalton turnovers and a stout rushing attack to grind out a 24-3 win. Almost no Bengals player had a decent showing and the Browns were media darlings for the next couple of weeks.
Bengals rookie running back Jeremy Hill wasn't impressed though. "They're (the Browns) probably worse than I thought, to be honest with you," he said after the loss. "They didn't do anything special to me. I mean, respect to them, they won the game, but that's all I'll give them."
If fans thought that that comment was glossed over by the Browns, it wasn't. Cleveland safety, Donte Whitner didn't dig on Hill's comments. You're familiar with Whitner, aren't you? He's the guy who told the Bengals and the world (via Twitter) that he was going to be a Bengal back in 2012, only to back out and opt for the 49ers. That classy move aside, Whitner had this to say in response to Hill's take:
"You know, that's a rookie, so you can't really take his words as anything other than pure ignorance and being a sore loser,'' said Whitner via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Other than that, anytime you lose a football game, the first thing that the coaching staff tells you, even if you don't feel that way is to give the other team credit and not say the ignorant comment that he made."
Hill subsequently stood by his comments after Whitner chimed in :
"Everything I said I meant," Hill said via Bengals.com. "It was really meant as no disrespect to them. Just how we played really affected the game. They just did a lot of dropping back with eight (defenders). Simple looks. We just missed a lot of little things. It was on us."
"Just watching the film, it was one guy messing up. Get 13 yards and fumble. Stuff like that," Hill said. "Nothing they did was miraculous. It was just us making simple mistakes. We'll see them again."
It was an interesting assessment from a guy that had just over 50 yards rushing and a fumble on the evening. Still, if one is to look at it somewhat objectively, he wasn't really incorrect with what he said. The Browns simply took care of the football, sat back and waited for the Bengals to trip over their own feet, which they inevitably did once again in prime time.
In what can only be described as hypocrisy and irony at the most Bengals-like of levels, head coach Marvin Lewis told Hill to shut up after such an embarrassing loss. Now, here stands Lewis' football team after another three-touchdown loss to a division foe (Steelers), yet he makes an offensive and idiotic slip-of-the-tongue of his own with a remark about Johnny Manziel's height.
In fairness, Lewis did publicly apologize a couple of times about the remark, and to Manziel's credit, he took the slight in stride. "It's just one of those things that you kind of laugh off a little bit that they think I'm short," Manziel said in an interview this week. "I mean, I'm obviously a little undersized but at the same time I didn't think coach Lewis said that in a very negative way. It never really got to me or upset me at all."
Maybe he's being honest about that, or maybe he's hanging on to it a little more than he's letting on. Either way, the Bengals have created a dangerous scenario for themselves with these two little public quips towards the Browns. Lose this one and these comments will be thrown back in their face for the next week or longer--likely while being paired to images of Manziel doing his famous dollar sign celebration. Beyond falling farther out of the playoff picture, Cincinnati would face epic public embarrassment.
With a win thought, it could all go away. Emerging victorious in Cleveland would temporarily stop the Manziel hype-machine and reinvigorate a fan base that has seen a lot of wins, but also some terrible losses in 2014. Not that they necessarily want to fully emulate a bully, but winning after talking so much smack would likely bring about some smiles in that Cincinnati locker room.
Come Sunday afternoon, we'll see which storyline embraces the 2014 Cincinnati Bengals.