What good does it do to hate Steelers?
Column by The Post's Lonnie Wheeler
To Bengals fans, the difference between jealously and outright resentment goes about 300 pounds and wears No. 67 for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The line was crossed when Kimo von Oelhoffen's shoulder found its way into Carson Palmer's anchored knee.
For years upon eras, in the matters of Pittsburgh and football, Cincinnati had grown glumly accustomed to a station of subordination. It had tolerated the Terrible Towels and held off the traditional hating of a regional rival that seemed to always have its way. This, our denizens did out of grudging respect for a team that was everything they wished theirs was.
All of that changed twice in a little more than a month. First, there was the Bengals' virtual division-clinching at Heinz Field, leaving the Steelers 7-5 and all but finished. I recall, after the game, Bill Cowher pointing out that the playoffs were still a mathematical possibility for his men, and thinking, yeah, sure. It seemed almost pathetically rhetorical.
Of course, they haven't lost since, which puts them in Sunday's Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks, which is the Steeler sort of thing that makes envious admirers out of the often-beaten. Besides that, how do you not like the Bus? Big Ben? Dick LeBeau? Polamalu? Hines Ward? The Rooneys? Even Cowher? How do you not appreciate what Pittsburgh brings to the AFC North and NFL In General?
"They show that, if you want to stay ahead, you can't be satisfied with where you're at," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, a Pittsburgher who pulled for the Steelers as a kid and coached for them as a young professional. "They're very proactive. They're not my favorite team, but they're in the top three."
Magnanimously, sportingly, Lewis is able to say this in spite of what von Oelhoffen did, unpunished, to his franchise quarterback. He is able to say it in spite of the sanguine belief that, with Palmer in the pocket, his Bengals - who led the Steelers by 10 points in both the first and second quarters of their playoff game - might well be in Pittsburgh's place right now.
The rest of our town, however, is not quite so generous. In another year, the local folks would be all for the former RedHawk quarterback, the gentle coordinator whose experience here engendered their empathy, the dancing-haired safety who roomed with Palmer at USC, the retiring tailback who nearly fumbled away this final chance, the Ickey Shuffler, the Jaw. They'd be a Steelers camp.
But not this time. Not in the new Carson City.
"I think everything turned with Palmer's injury," said WLW sportstalker Andy Furman, who has been dealing with the reconstituted wrath of Bengals fans. "I think Shaun Alexander (the Seattle superstar from Boone County) has really rallied the troops, but I think there's a definite hatred now toward the Steelers.
"You'd think that you've got to root for the team that would make you look better if it won, the team that's in your division, the team that beat your team, the team that has had to beat three good teams on the road to get where they are. But it's really turned. A guy downtown just got in my face and said, 'If Carson hadn't gotten hurt, we'd be in the Super Bowl.' ''
It's human nature; especially sports-fan nature. There, but for the lack of grace of a defensive lineman, go we.
But maybe it's time for a little Kimo-therapy.
Granted, the ex-Bengal's leg yank looked questionable at best, and gruesome regardless. There probably should have been a flag, if not a fine. But one debatable play, by one desperate player, does not define an organization. For their part, the Bengals profess no problem with either von Oelhoffen or Pittsburgh.
"You can't purposely go out and hurt somebody," Lewis said Friday. "I've never seen that happen in the NFL. So I don't think there needs to be any resentment."
What he would rather take out of all this - on top of the encouragement and vicarious confidence the Bengals should derive from winning a division that includes a Super Bowl team they led by 10 points without their starting quarterback - is a lasting lesson in seeing things through. A team like Pittsburgh can't be put away on paper. Lesser teams are left reading the paper.
"I think it's a great thing for our players to look at and understand that if you do things the right way and take care of business, good things will happen," remarked the Cincinnati mastermind, whose high regard for the Steelers will fall short of a rooting interest on Sunday. His rooting interest is in Monday.
"I can't spend emotions on other people. I'll just be glad when the season ends, we're all 0-0, and we start over."
Contact Lonnie Wheeler at email@example.com