Pittsburgh Steelers second-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has been making a name for himself early in his professional career.
In addition to leading all rookies in receiving yards last season, the 21-year-old started a YouTube channel about himself that now has more than 500,000 subscribers. He’s been a prevalent celebrity figure in the Fortnite community, appearing in prominent gaming streamers’ videos. He also has developed a relationship with the great LeBron James.
All over the sports world, Smith-Schuster is viewed as a budding star and a rising brand. In Cincinnati, the perception toward him isn’t as welcoming.
Smith-Schuster was making waves around the league after his 193 yard breakout performance against Detriot in late October, but his notoriousness truly escalated after the Steelers came back from a 14 point half-time deficit and beat the Bengals in early December. He only caught four passes for a mere 17 yards, but it was his crackback block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict that everyone remembers.
In an interview with Bleacher Report’s Master Tesfatsion, Smith-Schuster says he’s been treated well in Pittsburgh since the hit.
“I didn’t know how big it was to take Burfict out like that. After that hit, I don’t have to pay for anything. When I go to bars, I don’t have to pay for drinks or anything. ‘Yo, we appreciate what you did,’ and stuff like that.” Smith-Schuster explains. “I remember my last week here [during the season], I didn’t have to pay for no meals. I went out to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner almost every day and didn’t have to pay for nothing.”
Clearly, Burfict is not a likable figure in Pittsburgh because of incidents involving him and the Steelers in the past. Smith-Schuster’s actions have deemed him a hero for taking on one of the NFL’s most well-known villains in Burfict, and injuring him in the process. Steelers fans loved it. Bengals fans were furious. And Smith-Schuster knows the beef he started is likely not through.
“It’s going to be crazy. I’ve gotta keep my head on a swivel. He’s a savage,” Smith-Schuster confessed when asked about what to expect from playing against Burfict this season. The Bengals play the Steelers in Weeks 6 and 17.
Truthfully, actions like Smith-Schuster’s hit do more to escalate tensions in an already brutal biannual rivalry, and any retaliation from Burfict would cause the same thing. Before Burfict made his hit on wide receiver Antonio Brown in the January 2016 Wild Card playoff game, there were multiple incidents involving former Steelers safety Mike Mitchell and linebacker Ryan Shazier injuring or attempting to injure Bengals players. Long before that there was former linebacker James Harrison’s head-hunting presence, which was always revered more than chastised. And of course there was Kimo von Oelhoffen’s low hit on Carson Palmer that ultimately won the Steelers the January 2006 playoff game.
With luck, we won’t see anymore dangerous or even career-threatening hits in either Bengals-Steelers game this year. After Shazier’s head-first tackle last December on Josh Malone that hospitalized and nearly paralyzed the Steelers linebacker, hopefully some common sense interjects its way into both teams and fanbases alike.