(Editor's Note: It's the bye week for the Bengals and we're gearing up for the subsequent game, which is known around these parts as "Steelers Week". This post is meant to be enjoyed and taken lightly in good fun...sort of. I'll await the Twitter hate.)
Kimo Von Oelhoffen.
The name sounds like some sort of World War I German figurehead and is also one that continuously brings cringes to Who Dey Nation. It was January 8th, 2006 and the Bengals were riding high on a renaissance which had begun with Marvin Lewis' arrival two years earlier. Carson Palmer was a budding superstar in just his second season as a starter and the team won the AFC North. It had been 15 long, arduous years since Cincinnati made it to the postseason.
Of course, the gridiron powers-that-be decided the Bengals would face the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium in the Wild Card round on the fateful day. The teams had split the regular season series that year, with the Bengals essentially claiming the division title with a 38-31 win on the Steelers' home field. Cincinnati savored the victory in boastful fashion in the form of wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh wiping his game-worn cleats with a "Terrible Towel".
"Blasphemy!", Steelers Nation cried. Unfortunately, it was the Black and Yellow who would have the last laugh.
It was a game that started off pretty well for the Bengals. After forcing a punt by the Steelers, Palmer and the offense took the field. Running back Rudi Johnson, a Pro Bowler himself, took a carry on first down for a minimal gain. On second down, Lewis and then-offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski decided to go for the throat early. Palmer dropped back and hit the late Chris Henry for a 66-yard bomb to set the Bengals up in the red zone. Celebration at PBS and among Bengals fans in front of their TVs ensued--for a few brief seconds.
Cameras panned back to Palmer, who was in an agonizing heap back where he heaved the pass. Von Oelhoffen had hit Palmer questionably late and low by his knees. After what seemed like an eternity, Palmer was carted off the field with a towel draped over his head in front of a sickly silent home crowd. Backup Jon Kitna took over and admirably kept the Bengals in the game for most of the afternoon, but the Steelers prevailed.
Palmer tore two knee ligaments and dislocated his knee cap on the play, spurring a long comeback trail. Cincinnati wouldn't make the playoffs again until 2009, and exited in similar heartbreaking fashion that year as well. You could argue the team hasn't recovered from the trauma suffered almost 10 years ago.
In case you were wondering, Palmer hasn't forgiven Pittsburgh for what transpired a decade ago.
"We all hate Pittsburgh," Palmer said.
"It's nothing against the city, the fans or the individual players," Palmer said, sitting on a golf cart inside Paul Brown Stadium that was parked in the same runway in which he was carted off the field seven months ago. "It's just the team, that's our rival. They are the guys that are where we want to be. When you play at USC, you hate UCLA. You don't hate the strong safety, you don't hate the left outside linebacker, but it's just something that develops.
"Until you're part of that rivalry, like a fan, like a crazy rabid Steelers fan or a crazy Bengals fan, when you have a love for a team like our fans love our team, like their fans love their team, and they're where you want to be and they have want you want to have, then you get an aggressiveness toward them. It's nothing individually."
Last Sunday, Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals traveled back to Heinz Field to take on the Steelers. In the week leading up to the contest, Palmer didn't reiterate nor did he shy away from the aforementioned feelings he noted back in 2006. Regardless, you would have to believe he'd have loved to leave the Three Rivers area with a win. He didn't, and certain mistakes he and the rest of the team made harkened back to the Bengals' lack of success against the Steelers.
While Palmer isn't the go-to guy for Bengals fans for insight on fanbase feelings due to his trade-me-or-I-quit stance in the early months of 2011, his feelings on the Steelers bear merit to Bengals fans everywhere and here are a few reasons why.
Reveling In Opposition's Pain:
If you wanted sympathy from Steelers' fans on the Palmer injury, keep waiting. The vast majority of the Steelers fan base laughs at the notion of the Bengals making a run back in the 2005 playoffs had Palmer not been injured and mockingly give a "boo hoo" when the Orange and Black faithful attempt to talk about the situation. In fact, many Steelers fans use a Nelson Muntz-like laugh and actually love the Palmer injury and the anger Bengals fans feel about it.
Sure, Bengals players may have mocked "The Terrible Towel" back in 2005, but the entire Steelers team absolutely relished in the Palmer injury and the playoff win. There is footage of the Steelers mocking the "Who Dey" chant with ear-to-ear grins in the locker room after destroying Palmer's knee and garnering a subsequent win. In short, it's disgusting.
Personally, I know way too many Steelers fans. Some are pleasant people, even with them knowing the fact they're talking with a Bengals homer. Some of my day job colleagues/friends are fans (did I mention I live and work in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA?) and usually are pretty complimentary of the Bengals--especially of late. One of my brother's friends is a big Steelers guy, yet never rubs history in our faces.
However, for each of these good people, there are multitudes of others who are "sunshine fans"--hoards of people who aren't fully familiar with the great Steelers tradition and root for a team that has won a couple of Super Bowls over the past decade. Fine.
To me, I have epitomized the Steelers fan. I work out often and at a couple of different venues. At one such venue, there is a gigantic meatball who stakes claim to about eight machines at a time. If someone attempts to roll the dice and use one of the machines, he's quick to sprint over and bully the person off of it. Did I mention when he arrives at said gym, he's the guy who backs his truck up into a parking spot and not park the way almost every normal human being does? He's made it well-known to others where his football allegiances lie.
A couple of weeks ago, I watched the Chargers vs Steelers Monday Night Football game. While many Steelers fans are die-hards, there were a number of bandwagoners in attendance, making the game essentially a Pittsburgh home game. Terrible Towels were waving and it was a nauseating sight.
The Terrible Freaking Towel:
Because the city of Pittsburgh has zero creativity and, in fairness, it's quite difficult to conjure up a mascot over the substance of steel and/or the workers who create it, tangible figures have been tough to come by over the club's decorated history. In the mid-1970s, some genius associated with the Pittsburgh franchise decided to make a make a schtick with fans to wave a towel donning the team's colors. Like it or not, radio broadcaster Myron Cope came up with a cultish activity to show support of the Steelers.
While nearly every other NFL franchise has a majestic animal or historical figure to rally around, the city of Pittsburgh and its fan base have a yellow towel to helicopter over their heads. How many fans do you think have been so upset because of meatball Steelers fans waving them in their face, either on purpose or accidentally, over the years?
Reason four directly correlates with the first reason listed. Back in 2008, Lewis decided he wanted to shore up a defense that was the team's Achilles heel through the first five years in his tenure as head coach. The Bengals invested a No. 9 overall pick in USC linebacker Keith Rivers to help bring savviness and physicality to the unit. In a familiar twist of fate, Rivers had his jaw broken on a questionable block by Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. What ensued was a trip to Injured Reserve for Rivers and his status as one of the bigger draft busts in team history, as well as an installation of a league rule on blindside blocks, otherwise known as "The Hines Ward Rule". Rad.
Fast forward five years to December 2013. The Bengals were on their way to playoffs when they went to Pittsburgh for a Sunday Night matchup with the Steelers, who would miss the postseason. Bengals punter Kevin Huber sailed a kick to Antonio Brown and Terence Gavin decided to take his possible childhood bullying out on Huber. He borderline blindside blocked Huber and broke both his jaw and vertebrae. Harkening back to the Steelers fan mantra, when we discussed the play on Cincy Jungle, Steelers fans virtually pointed their fingers in Bengals fans and chided them for feelingit was an uncalled for play.
Bonus: on another Brown punt return in 2014, the Pro Bowl wide receiver garnered a big return against the Browns. On it, Brown literally kicked the punter in the face while attempting to "hurdle" him. Uh, ok.
The City Itself:
I've never been to The Steel City, nor will I ever have it as a vacation destination on my personal itinerary, but I imagine it has the smell of burning rubber and stale steak sandwiches. It's an unfair assumption, but what else can I assume with a city epitomized as a hive of scum of villainy in the most recent Batman trilogy?
It must be why the fans are so good about traveling to other cities and venues--the idea of leaving the city has to be euphoric. Cities like San Diego must be a safe-haven from the harsh autumns and winters they endure every year.
Envious Of A Rival's Success:
A major part of resentment on the part of those associated with the Bengals toward the Steelers stems from Pittsburgh's success as a franchise. Aside from the championships they've won, the Steelers have made numerous other playoff and Super Bowl appearances. They were the team of the 1970s and were/are a powerhouse over the past 15 years. Sure, they have had their dry spells, as have every other prominent NFL franchise, but they are still known as a pillar of professional football success.
Pittsburgh's Super Bowl win after Wild Card game with Palmer's injury seemed like un-poetic justice, while their other win for the 2008 season crushed the dream that was Kurt Warner's Arizona career renaissance. There are a few ironies here. One resides in the almost incestuous relationship of the franchises, with the exchange of players (Myron Bell, James Harrison) and coaches (Lewis and Dick LeBeau, anyone?). Another stems from certain Bengals teams seeming to be more talented than Lombardi-hoisting Steelers teams, but coaching and hot streaks won the year.
"Six rings, bro!"