Hines Ward doesn't think the Bengals and Steelers like each other. It's such a brilliant deduction that it makes you wonder if Ward has some inside knowledge of both teams.
But, the two teams go beyond mere dislike, according to Ward. In a recent appearance on the Jim Rome show, Ward said that the tension between the two teams isn't just a mutual disliking, "it's hatred now."
"That's what the rivalry has become. It's become personal, it's hatred now," Ward said. "If they're in this room right now, they're not shaking hands. They're not saying what's up or congratulations. They're not saying any of that. It's, ‘I can't wait to play you. If I see you in the streets there's going to be some problems.'"
It seems like Ward is a bit behind the times here. Maybe it's true that the Steelers players are only recently getting caught up in the level of hatred that this rivalry creates, but the hatred has been there from the Bengals perspective for years.
After explaining his distaste for Vontaze Burfict's hit on Brown, he went on to chastise Adam Jones for his claim that Brown was faking it. Of the incident, he said "Antonio Brown has kids. They were watching that game, and to sit there and say that he's faking, that's crazy."
What seems crazy here is the fact that Ward is calling Burfict and Jones out for their actions on the field, yet is advocating for a team that has consistently acted violently toward the Bengals. Antonio Brown complained that Vontaze Burfict "tried to kill me; steal my dreams", much like numerous Bengals players felt in the past such as Carson Palmer, Keith Rivers, and Kevin Huber.
There might not be anyone in the world with less room to talk about Burfict's hit than Hines Ward. Ward ended linebacker Keith Rivers's rookie season (2008) nine games early due to a blindside block that broke his jaw. Was it a dirty hit? You could argue that it was or wasn't, but the NFL thought it was. The "Hines Ward rule" was created by the NFL in an attempt to limit blindside hits to a defender's head. The Bengals and their fans remember hits like that, which created a culture of hating the Steelers with an unequaled passion.
When outside fans and players ask "why so much hatred for the Steelers?", it's a question that makes some sense. After all, before 2005, there wasn't much of a precedent for the Bengals and Steelers to be such strong rivals beyond being in the same division. The Bengals were a franchise born out of contempt for Art Modell and the Cleveland Browns, so there's not much historical basis for the vehement animosity with the Steelers.
Therefore, maybe Ward can't be totally blamed for mistakenly thinking that the rivalry between the Bengals and Steelers is only now getting to the point of "hatred". The thing is, you can only push a team and a fan base so far before they start to bite back. Following the heated playoff game, Steelers fans started petitions to have Vontaze Burfict removed from the league. On top of that, Antonio Brown and Hines Ward have fanned the flames of hatred on the Steelers' side of the fence through the media, much like Benglas have been doing for years.
However, in a sense, Ward is completely dead on. In the interview, he claimed that Brown would remember the hit and take his revenge when he has a chance.
"Antonio Brown was knocked out in the air. If he landed some type of way, it could have been more serious," Ward said. "So to see that and Antonio Brown, I'm sure he watched all of the replays of it. You take it personal. You remember that. So next time they play each other, I wouldn't be shocked if Antonio Brown went after him, within the rules."
This is exactly the kind of thing that has been done to the Bengals for years. How many times have we seen the Bengals bullied? Nobody wants to see players having to leave a game due to a serious injury, but the dirty and excessively violent way that the Steelers have bullied the Bengals for years is evoking exactly the kind of reaction that Ward is talking about, now from the Bengals.
The Steelers are starting to feel the way about the Bengals that the Bengals have felt about the Steelers for so long. They feel like their players are being unfairly targeted by Bengals players who are (in their minds) focused on hurting them, playing a style of football that so many like to deem "dirty" or "classless." That may or may not be true, but maybe, they're just scared of a little taste of their own medicine.