We may actually be living in the greatest time of the year right now; we are deep in the National Football League’s playoff schedule. Fans are treated to highly competitive games where the winner gets to survive another week against another formidable opponent and the losing team gets a premature end to their storybook season.
And of course, any discussion of this playoff season would be remiss if what happened against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers was not brought forward. The build-up to the game was fever pitched, as expected. The Cincinnati Bengals were mired in a playoff losing streak of a quarter-century. However, they were in the middle of a miracle season, a 12-4 record and a division championship.
Their opponent was their bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers this year barely made the playoffs. They came in with a respectable 10-6 record, and only through the defeat of other teams the previous week, did they find themselves in the playoffs. While the Steelers have always been a good team, many agreed that they were not among the league’s elite units.
Of course, both teams are part of the same division and play each other twice each year. Early in the season, the Bengals beat the Steelers in a competitive game in Pittsburgh. Just a few weeks ago, the Steelers returned the favor by winning in Cincinnati. Both games were close and were known for their aggressive play.
By now, we all know the results of the playoff game. The Steelers bested the Bengals thanks to a last-minute drive that was aided by two 15-yard penalties that exposed either an undisciplined Bengals team or a result of inconsistent officiating.
Now, let me be clear, I am not one to believe that there are any great conspiracies in the league. I do believe that the best teams make the playoffs and the best teams survive in the playoffs. Officials have a tough job of determining the right call at the right time. Watching 22 men who are the best at their craft as they run, jump, pass, throw, etc., might be enjoyable, but it cannot be easy to determine the right penalty at the right time all the time since each play stops as soon as it starts.
But, at the same time, I can’t help but think that the National Football League enjoys having competitive match-ups that sometimes cross the line from good sportsmanship to inappropriate behavior. As much as I realize that football is a sport, the National Football League is not necessarily in the sport promotion business as they are the entertainment business.
A lot can be said for Commissioner Goodell and how he has handled certain issues facing the league; failure to adequately address off-field behavior of players, being prime among those issues. But at the end of the day, the National Football League has generated more interest, and more money than ever before. I am sure the Commissioner reminds his bosses (the franchise owners) of how they (the league and the owners) are flush with cash.
I bring this up, because if we take a look at the Bengals and Steelers rivalry, we can easily see where the absolute hatred between these two teams could easily cause a football player to prematurely end their career. The last few games have been mired in serious injuries for both teams. And while injuries are part of the game, it’s hard not to believe that a few players on both times aren’t trying to cross a line of not causing intentional harm. If you don’t believe me, watch that playoff game again.
If I were commissioner, I would seriously consider moving the Bengals out of the AFC North and have them switch the Indianapolis Colts or take the Buffalo Bills out of the AFC East and switch spots with the Steelers. These two teams need a cooling off period from one another. Having them meet two times a year is going to make this bitter rivalry even bitterer.
By making one of these moves, the league can send the message that the safety of its players can be more important than the cash in its pockets.
William (Bill) Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at [email protected]