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Friday, May 26, 2006
 

OK, it's not quite as advanced as Steelers-Raiders of the 1970s.

Not yet, anyway.

We haven't seen anything like the time Raiders safety George Atkinson sued Chuck Noll for slander after Noll accused Atkinson (who'd knocked future Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann cold) of being part of the Raiders' "criminal element."

But we're getting there.

The Steelers-Cincinnati Bengals rivalry has reached a boiling point. In May. We're two months shy of training camp, three shy of the teams' first clash of 2006 and six shy of the season finale New Year's Eve at Paul Brown Stadium (bring your party hats).

The latest salvo came from an unlikely source -- injured and normally mild-mannered Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who told Sports Illustrated that he "hates the Steelers" and was upset when they won the Super Bowl.

Not exactly lawsuit material, but eye-opening nonetheless.

"I keep thinking about how much, back in college, I hated UCLA," Palmer told SI's Michael Silver. "I hate the Steelers more than I hate UCLA. Yeah, it's because I'm jealous and want what they have. ... It's how everybody in our locker room feels."

I dutifully brought this quote to the Steelers' attention Wednesday.

"Carson Palmer only beat us one time, so he should hate us," said linebacker Larry Foote, who knows the Steelers are 4-1 against the Bengals in the Palmer era. "I'd hate a team, too, if I only beat them one time and (lost) in the playoffs."

I asked Foote to gauge the Bengals' bitterness toward the Kimo von Oelhoffen hit that blew out Palmer's knee early in the Steelers' playoff victory.

"They self-destructed and started crying," Foote said. "But, you know, that's the game. People get hurt. You just have to get yourself together, get your composure. They lost it. ... When teams are forcing your will on you, it's going to make you do crazy stuff."

Cornerback Ike Taylor didn't know quite what to make of Palmer's comments.

"Wow," Taylor said. "He said he hates the Steelers• That's pretty much a strong statement, but, hey, everybody's entitled to their own opinion."

Here's one: The Steelers-Bengals rivalry has become the hottest in the NFL. Its official launching point, I'd argue, was when Troy Polamalu plastered Palmer -- his former USC teammate and housemate -- at the goal line to clinch a 28-17 victory Oct. 3, 2004, at Heinz Field.

It heated up in training camp last year, when Bengals receiver Chad Johnson insulted the entire Steelers' secondary, and continued through a Steelers' victory in Cincinnati and a Bengals victory at Heinz Field, one that all but clinched the AFC North title.

After that one, you'll recall, Johnson compared the Steelers to a black-and-white TV.

A little more than a month later, immediately after the Steelers gained revenge in the playoffs, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis took an indirect shot at Roethlisberger, and NFL Films captured Steelers coach Bill Cowher performing a version of the Bengals "Who Dey" chant in the locker room.

He would do the chant again -- repeatedly -- at the Super Bowl parade.

Think that'll be replayed in Bengals camp during Steelers week?

"They can do whatever," Foote said. "They know deep down inside what we bring to the table. They know it, and they're just not ready yet. Our coaches and our players were just a step ahead of them. Hopefully, we keep it going. We're going to play them twice again and maybe in the playoffs. I'm looking forward to it."

Who's not?

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