Thursday, May 25, 2006
Palmer? A softie? Hardly
Spice from SI interview boosts AFC North rivalry to new level
BY PAUL DAUGHERTY | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
It's on now. The game is on, there will be no more politeness. Forget all that nonsense about admiring and respecting the Steelers. "It's a division game, they're all important." Well, no. Carson Palmer, of all people, has thrown down the heaviest smack ever. The Bengals quarterback officially set aside all civility when it comes to how the Cincinnati Bengals feel about the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I hate them," Palmer is quoted as saying, in this week's Sports Illustrated. "I hate them even more than I hate UCLA."
Mild-mannered Carson steps into the phone booth and comes out ... Chad Johnson?
What's Palmer going to do next? Make a List? "Who Stopped Oh-Nine in Oh-Six?"
"It's because I'm jealous and I want what they have. I guess I'm just not that evolved," Palmer said. Who knew?
When I asked a Bengals team official if he had heard Palmer say anything remotely like that to the local media, about any team, he said no. Palmer told The Enquirer's Bill Koch it might have been because no one asked.
Well, OK. But that's because the thought would never occur. Carson Palmer is to press relations what white is to bread.
He is pleasant, gracious and humble to a fault. Asking him if he "hated" something other than a blindside hit from Joey Porter would be like asking Gandhi if he hated grasshoppers.
Even Johnson, aka Grandmaster Quote, was impressed. "Wow," Eighty-Five said. "Carson said that? That's serious." Johnson decided he wasn't entirely surprised. "He talks like that to me all the time," he said.
The SI story describes Palmer's anticipation of a Pittsburgh playoff loss, and his anguish when it didn't happen. "Can you believe this?" SI quotes Palmer saying to Jon Kitna, as the Steelers kept winning.
Beyond the rhetoric, the story is a clinic in put-you-there journalism, from Palmer's emotions upon leaving Paul Brown Stadium during the game to the single-mindedness of his rehab, fueled by skeptics who doubt his return. If anyone could come back ahead of schedule from a catastrophic knee injury, it's Palmer.
His head is so level, you could shoot pool on it.
By the way, Palmer is progressing nicely, as you guessed he might. Coach Marvin Lewis anticipates an opening-day return. All that's at stake is the long-term success of the franchise.
That's how important Palmer is to the Bengals. And now he is one of you.
Palmer might not hate the Steelers for the same reasons you hate them, or I dislike them - the arrogance of their fans, the way they've bullied the Bengals forever, the arrogance of their fans, their unmatched success in the division ... did we mention the arrogance of their fans? - but now you know where the QB stands. It's front and center with you, Steeler Hater.
That game got to Palmer for the same reason it got to every Bengal. On that day, in that moment, on that field, the Bengals thought they had it. They believed it was their time. That game wasn't a defining moment of the season; it was a fluke that has every Bengal player eager to right a wrong.
And now they have their leader out there, talking stuff.
You know how he will feel Sept. 24, when Cincinnati plays Pittsburgh for the first time since Kimo Von KneeBuster pretzeled Palmer's anterior cruciate ligament. Palmer might be more diplomatic then, especially if he's back in the lineup. But his cover has been blown.
In the SI piece, Palmer has made a mental circle around New Year's Eve, when the Bengals host the Steelers in the regular season finale he hopes will be "for all the marbles." Can you see it if that occurs? What a froth this place would be in, led by its formerly Clark Kent QB, Steeler Hater Carson Palmer.
"When it's hard to stay focused on rehab, I just keep thinking about that game. I can't wait," Palmer told Sports Illustrated.
The anticipation is already thick. Palmer, um, guaranteed that.