"I'm embarassed by the way this game ended and by the way these guys acted on the field today. I feel bad for Marvin Lewis, and I'll tell you one thing, if Marvin Lewis can't keep control of his players, then maybe Marvin Lewis shouldn't be standing there on the sideline coaching that drek.”
Those words were what fans heard as the CBS post-game show opened up following the Bengals’ loss to the Steelers in January’s Wild Card playoff game. And who said it, who called the Bengals drek, in other words, trash? None other than former Bengals quarterback and current CBS color commentator, Boomer Esiason.
It was a tough pill for Bengals fans to swallow as they heard a former player say he was embarassed by the team for whom he played for 10 years and the team he led to one of their only two Super Bowls. This, all just moments after watching a heartbreaking playoff loss.
I met with Esiason during CBS’ NFL preview day last week and his feelings on the topic haven’t changed.
“At that moment, I was disgusted. The Bengals were the better team but they didn’t keep their poise. You need to play with you head above it and it was frustrating to see that,” Esiason said. “If they do that again, I will say the same things again.”
And while Esiason is entitled to his opinion, his CBS colleague, Solomon Wilcots, who also played for the Bengals, strongly disagrees with those feeling of embarrassment.
“Were you embarrassed for the Pittsburgh Steelers when James Harrison was knocking players out all around this league? Were you embarrassed for the Steelers when Hines Ward was breaking the jaw of a Bengals linebacker? Were you embarrassed for the Steelers when they broke punter Kevin Huber’s jaw and cracked his vertebrae? In fact, did Pittsburgh fans say ‘get rid of James Harrison, he’s a menace to our team’? No, they applauded it, they supported him,” Wilcots told me regarding his colleague’s embarrassment. And he wasn’t done.
“Did the people in Baltimore say get rid of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed for the physical way that they dominated for over a decade? Was anyone embarrassed for the Ravens when they were doing it? No, but somehow in those towns they know how football games are won and they know how football should be played on defense. And, more importantly, they always support them,” Wilcots continued.
Following the Bengals’ loss to the Steelers, many fans wanted to see the Bengals cut ties with Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict, two of the best players on defense for the team, but also, two of the reasons why Esiason was embarassed and why the Bengals self-imploded during the final minutes of the Wild Card game. Of course, the Bengals don’t listen to disgruntled fans and re-signed Jones to a three-year deal this offseason. Meanwhile, they have fully supported Burfict this offseason and Marvin Lewis went as far as to go with Burfict to meet Roger Goodell, in response to Burfict’s suspension.
“We definitely don’t know how to support our guys, because Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict are among the Bengals’ best defensive players,” Wilcots said.
“Last I checked, I want that type of defensive player on my team. That’s a Chuck Bednarik type player, that’s a Lawrence Taylor type player. Unapologetic, sheer physical and a player who the other team is intimidated by. If you’re embarassed by that, you really don’t understand how football games are won,” Wilcots added. “Sometimes it ain't going to be pretty, sometimes someone is going to get hurt. No one tried to run off Dick Butkus, Bednarik, the 1985 Chicago Bears. I’m not calling for physical violence in NFL games, I’m just saying that football games are very tough and physical.”
No one wants to see players getting injured in the midst of an NFL game, but, as we see every week of the season, NFL players get hurt on all types of plays, and even by stepping awkwardly, or falling without being touched. Non-contact injuries are some of the worst injuries in the NFL.
Injuries will happen, they’re a part of the game of football, but the NFL is going to attempt to clean up the game and Burfict’s unprecedented three-game suspension is evidence of that. For his actions in the Wild Card game, coupled with other rule violations, Burfict will sit out for the first three games this season, a suspension already underway as he’s banned from the team facilities.
Hopefully, that suspension will help Burfict to keep his play clean, while still physical. After all, in Wilcots’ opinion, all 31 other teams in the NFL would want Burfict on their team, whether they admit it today or not.
“The thing I loved about playing in Pittsburgh is that they know what football looks like, they know what defensive football looks like, and they’re unapologetic” said Wilcots, who played for the Steelers in 1992, the final year of his NFL playing career. “When these two teams play this year, I want it to be clean, but it’s going to be physical.”