I love the NFL. I’ve been a fan of the Steelers since I was 7 and have been a diehard fan ever since. I’m a baseball, basketball and hockey fan too, but I think I like football the most. I know I’m not alone; why do we like football so much? Some people like a long touchdown pass or a big run or an interception or sack. Some people like it for the violence. They want to see hard hits and tackles.
Last night the Steelers beat the Cincinatti Bengals 23-20 on a last second field goal by Chris Boswell. The Bengals had a 17-0 lead at one point but the Steelers offense and defense rallied to tie and eventually win the game. If you didn’t see the game, you’d think it was just a good game between 2 AFC North rivals. But this wasn’t any other game. This game was ultra-violent, nasty and resulted in multiple injuries. It wasn’t fun or entertaining. It was scary.
When the Steelers and Bengals play, the game has a chance to get nasty. Ben Roethlisberger has been quoted as saying Ravens-Steelers games are ‘As physical as a rivalry and as physical as a football game that you would ever see. Everybody knew that. But it was never dirty. There may have been some pushing and shoving, but that’s just guys. You never worried about cheap and dirty-type stuff.’ ‘Cheap and dirty-type stuff’ was very much in display in the 2015 wild card playoff game in Cincinnati. Vontaze Burfict put on a vicious hit on Antonio Brown, causing a concussion that took him out of the playoffs and Burfict to be suspeneded for 3 games. Ryan Shazier made a questionable helmet to helmet hit on Giovanni Bernard that resulted in a fumble. The teams combined for 221 penalty yards, twice the regular season average.
Last night was just as ugly. But before the ugliness happened, something very scary happened. Ryan Shazier made a tackle very early in the game and immediately fell the ground and called for medics. It appeared he couldn’t move his legs. He eventually was taken on a stretcher to a hospital where it is believed he has a spinal concussion. It’s still not known whether he could play or even walk again. Teammates were crying, even Bengals players were kneeling and praying. It made a lot of people wonder whether it was worth watching such a violent game. How can players continue to play when one of their own just was taken to a hospital, possibly paralyzed for life?
But they did continue to play, and then things got ugly. Both teams combined for 20 penalties and 239 penalty yards. JuJu Smith-Schuster hit Vontaze Burfict with a vicious block to the head that resulted in Burfict being carried away on a stretcher and Smith-Schuster to be suspended for 1 game. After the hit, Smith-Schuster stood over Burfict and taunted him. Later, Antonio Brown caught a touchdown pass and took a vicious helmet to helmet hit form George Iloka that resulted in Iloka being suspended for 1 game.
After the Iloka hit, I didn’t want to watch anymore. I didn’t care who won or lost. Things were very much out of hand and the players didn’t care about the safety of other players. Is this what the NFL wants to showcase as their product? You have to expect some hard hitting and violence in a football game, but this game went way beyond that. What will it take for these teams to respect each other? A death on the field? The NFL needs to step in and make sure this kind of game never happens again.