Bad blood still simmers with Steelers-Bengals rivalry
The music played as background noise during an NFL team's practice is rarely newsworthy. So when several Cincinnati media members reported the Bengals' acoustic selection Thursday, there was an unambiguous reason.
“Oh, they played ‘Renegade' today at practice?” Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier said, when told. “Oh, man.”
“Renegade,” of course, has been the Steelers' Heinz Field rally song for almost two decades.
Said center Maurkice Pouncey: “No way. They're playing our song? Aww, that's cute.”
Must be Steelers-Bengals week.
As if the veteran players needed any refresher, rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin showed film of past meetings between the rivals in an attempt to show how physical Cincinnati's defense is.
Longtime Steelers guard Ramon Foster took something a little different from the session, though.
“I see their film when they play against other people, and other (teams' players) get away with stuff that we don't get away with,” Foster said. “You see a little extra shoving from the (other Bengals) opposing teams, (but) if we did that or tried to get the last shove, it becomes a ‘thing' with them.
“I don't know why. For whatever reason it is. For whatever reason …”
A big reason why the Bengals take the Steelers so seriously, of course, is it has been a big game in terms of who wins the AFC North in recent years.
One of the two teams has won the division each of the past four seasons, as well as in 10 of the past 13 seasons.
The Steelers don't always get the best of the Bengals, it just sometimes seems that way. But the Steelers have a four-game winning streak in the series (including the wild playoff game in January 2016) and an overall 60-35 advantage since they first met in 1970.
Along with the Ravens and Browns, there is no shortage of bubbling contempt among the AFC North family. But, as Foster said, “for whatever reason” it's “Pittsburgh” that seems to conjure up the most negativity in Cincinnati.
“They're not brothers,” Bengals safety George Iloka said of the Steelers to ESPN.com. “It's that cousin that your parents invite over that you're not really cool with, that's what that is. They're there for Thanksgiving dinner, and you're like, ‘Man, why did you all invite them this year?' That type of thing.”
Shazier played in college two hours from Cincinnati at Ohio State. As he put it: “A lot of the guys on each team really don't like each other, so we are gonna go out here and pretty much try to whip their butt.”
Dislike? OK. But the respect is there — even if it perhaps that began to dissipate during a 2015 season in which the team's three meetings combined for a host of fines, suspensions, pregame skirmishes, sideline incidents, long-term injuries inflicted … you name it.
Foster noted the pregame discussion officials had with the captains and coaches from both teams 13 months ago prior to the most recent Steelers-Bengals game at Heinz Field.
“Before we started the game they said their piece about keeping it clean, and that was it,” Foster said.
“… You know, before that talk, it was bad. A lot of fines, a lot of everything. So now, I hope it's back to regular-scheduled programming.”
At 2-3 and in danger of falling 2 1⁄2 games behind in the AFC North with a loss, the Bengals have more important things to focus on than any extracurricular shenanigans. The Steelers — fresh off a win at conference-leading Kansas City and needing to keep pace — do, too.
So while no one expects anything dirty, many Steelers this week have talked about how they anticipate the characteristically physical game associated with when they face the Bengals.
They're expressing similar sentiments in Cincinnati.
“Tough guys were built for games like this,” Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey told the team's official website. “I know they respect us. We respect them, too … But it's a mean game, and it's going to be a mean game on Sunday.”