Bears-Packers. Red Sox-Yankees. Ali-Frazier. Rivalries are everywhere, and they can bring out the best in us. Or the worst. Some of them are historically close, and others are pretty one-sided (see Road Runner-Wile E. Coyote). This past Monday, a rivalry took the football field and showed its darkest colors.
The Steelers-Bengals showdowns in the past years have been heavily lauded and also marred by violence. The games have been celebrated for their competitive play, yet the competition has recently turned recently into violence. The beginning of such bad blood is to be traced back to Bengals’ Vontaze Burfict hitting Antonio Brown in the head and concussing him in the 2016 AFC Wild Card playoff game. Since then, brutal hits and dirty play have been expected in each game featuring the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati football teams. This past Monday, the anger boiled over once again. In a game where Ryan Shazier, a linebacker for the Steelers, lay immobile on the ground after suffering a terrifying spinal injury, Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster blindsided Burfict and stood over his injured body, taunting him and receiving encouraging cheers from fellow wide receiver Brown yelling “karma.”
I watched the game. It was fun for a little while. The clean and hard hits at the beginning were great. Stars like running back Le’Veon Bell and AJ Green had shining moments. In such a fantastic game, it was a shame that later plays tainted it so heavily. Antonio Brown caught a fantastic touchdown at the end, but even that was unwatchable in replays, as he was hit in the head hard as he fell. In a rivalry defined by fire, this game was an uncontrollable blaze.
I love rivalries. A rivalry win is twice as enjoyable as any other. I still remember the last drive of the Thanksgiving day Packers-Bears matchup in 2015. Beating the Packers in Lambeau, on a last-second stop, was almost worth the rest of that terrible season (almost). I want to be able to watch rivalry games without wincing and I am sure the players want to play them. But revenge should be found on the scoreboard, not in a hospital room.
Rivals bring out the best in us. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird looked forward to playing each other every season. The Kick Six happened on one of the biggest stages of a rivalry in sports, the Iron Bowl. Great plays are great every day, but they become myth when playing against a rival. Rivals help us strive to be the best, in sports and off the field. Everyone competes to be the best that they can be. Rivals push us to our limits and our goals. They deserve our respect, not our violence. I can only hope the Bengals and Steelers have finally learned that.
This is my last column of the semester. I hope to continue writing for the sports section next semester and for more to come. I extend thanks to all who read even one line of any of my columns, as all I can ask for is an outlet in which I can write about my passions. Thank you.