Ali-Frazier, Tyson-Holyfield, Balboa-Creed. All of those rematches pale in comparison to the epic battle which will take place on Saturday night in the Queen City. Unless you have been buried in a sports hole for the last few days or just don’t pay any attention to professional football, you know that the most dastardly villains in the NFL, those dirty thugs, otherwise known as the Squealers, oops I mean Steelers, will be making a return trip to Paul Brown Stadium.
I have no love lost for the black and gold and those stupid towels, and that has little to do with their current rivalry with the beloved Bengals, Let me roll the tape back to the 1970’s when my football life lived and died with one man-#12 on the Dallas Cowboys, then my favorite and still my favorite and the one athlete to this day that I would give about anything to sit down and interview. Two dates made me despise Pittsburgh to this day-Jan. 18, 1976 Steelers 21 Cowboys 17 and Jan. 21, 1979 Steelers 35 Cowboys 31 (anyone remember Jackie Smith?) Yes, those two heartbreaking days have carried over to this day when every season I can only hope the Squealers go 0-16.
So here we go on Saturday night in prime time and my distaste for that team in the black and gold has carried over for 36 years. It will be a Royal Rumble for sure, last man standing wins. To be brutally honest as a Bengals fan, I would have much rather played the Broncos or Patriots in the first round instead of the dastardly villains, but as they say, “it is what it is.” You have to play the hand you are dealt and if you went into last Sunday’s NFL action thinking that there was going to be any other match up than the Bengals and the bad guys, then you may have been delusional. Just like Kentucky always seeing Louisville in the NCAA tournament, you don’t think the big whigs in the NFL were salivating at a Bengals-bad guys battle in prime time.
Sitting her typing this on a Tuesday morning, I will honestly say that I am not feeling real confident about our chances on Saturday night. First and foremost, the Bengals have to get over two mental stumbling blocks-one, the lack of success in the playoffs in recent years, and two, the team on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Granted, the Bengals beat the bad guys in their place and most likely if Andy Dalton hadn’t gotten hurt and Tyler Eifert had been available, they would have beaten them a few weeks ago. Those things we will never know but one thing for sure is that the orange and black better be ready to go on Saturday. Marvin needs to play big-time motivator, which worries me too as you know that Marvin is not the emotional coach in the league, at least not publicly.
My thoughts are that if the Bengals are to break the playoff losing streak on Saturday, it will have to be with a monumental defensive effort. Big Ben may be big, but he also doesn’t like to be knocked around and if the Cincinnati defensive line can get to him early, the whole game could change. Hopefully, tempers won’t flare like the last meeting, but you have to think that it is a dream. We hope that Vontaze Burfict keeps his cool because he can dominate the game when his mind is on the right track. Force Ben into a couple of interceptions, as he has been prone to recently, and the hometown boys will be in good shape.
On the offensive side of the ball, the big question still remains as of this Tuesday morning-who will play quarterback for the Bengals? The news this morning is that the cast has been removed from Dalton’s thumb, but as usual, that is all the information the Bengals are releasing. So that takes us back to A.J. McCarron, who has been a decent job in his three starts, but a prime time playoff game against the bitter rival is a whole new story. Not that McCarron hasn’t played in some pretty important big stage games at Alabama, but this is a whole new ball game. Would he be up to it? Many Bengals fans are torn on this one, including myself. If McCarron plays, a great deal of responsibility will then fall on the Bengal running backs to get the ground game going and make things easier for the rookie quarterback. It might also be nice for A.J. Green to make a showing in a playoff game against a weak bad guys’ secondary.
There are about a million “ifs” facing Bengals fans this week as nervousness and trepidation about what could or might happen Saturday night dominate their minds. I have a very good friend who says that she can put the voodoo on the opposing team, so I hope she has all her magic spells ready this weekend. I was in attendance at many playoff games in Riverfront Stadium in my younger days, surviving the Freezer Bowl and the Ickey Shuffle and Kimo the Horrible, and cheering the Bengals to a pair of Super Bowls. Saturday night I will likely break out the Ickey shirt and watch from the comfort of my living room as our Bengals break the curse and send the bad guys back up the Ohio River with their tails wagging.
OK, that’s my wish for this weekend, but the Bengals have broken our hearts in the past four years and my fingers are crossed that it will all be different on Saturday night. Yes, Bengals fans would rather lose to anyone than the bad guys in black and gold and they would certainly want more than anything love to knock their bitter rivals out.
I don’t make predictions. Mainly, because sports is too unpredictable and I am always wrong. All I can say is bring Michael Buffer to the 50-yard line, give him a microphone, and “Let’s get ready to rumble!”