When people talk of rivalries, they’re not talking about the Steelers and Bengals. That hasn’t been a true rivalry for a very long time.
Late in the game, when there was no doubt Pittsburgh would win, the FOX play-by-play announcer mentioned that it would be the team’s 10th-straight over the Bengals during the regular season. I was in mid-curl and away from my television when this was spoken, and I said, “Hey, what about the wildcard game at Paul Brown Stadium in 2016?”
That’s right, I was offended the Steelers weren’t being credited with an 11th-consecutive victory over their AFC North “rivals.”
Talk about taking a match-up for granted. And that’s why words like “rival,” “rivals” and “rivalry” must be put into quotation marks when used to describe what the Steelers and Bengals have had going on in recent memory. For something to be a true rivalry, one must get the other’s goat a time or two. It doesn’t even have to be directly, either. Remember the penultimate game of the 2012 regular season, when Cincinnati walked into Heinz Field and not only eliminated the Steelers from playoff contention but also clinched a postseason berth? How did the Bengals take advantage of that wildcard berth? By losing to the Texans in the wildcard round.
Remember five seasons ago, when the Bengals won the AFC North and faced Pittsburgh in that wildcard game I alluded to earlier? Of course, you remember that. It was a glorious black and gold conclusion to a game Cincinnati had in the bag but gave away at the end.
Even in 2019, amid the almost season-long absence of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Bengals could do nothing to gain even a temporary upper-hand on Pittsburgh in the annual two-game series. Instead, Cincinnati got swept again. Instead, the Bengals lost to both Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. You might even say Pittsburgh’s best performance occurred during a 27-3 Week-4 blow-out of the Bengals at Heinz Field on Monday Night Football. You can certainly argue that Rudolph never looked better in what turned out not to be the first step in his continued progress as the heir apparent at quarterback.
There are reasons nobody bats an eye whenever the Bengals are the next team on Pittsburgh’s schedule. It doesn’t matter whether it’s at home or on the road. It doesn’t matter if it’s the regular season or the playoffs. It doesn’t matter if Cincinnati is the AFC North champ and the Steelers are the wildcard entrant.
It doesn’t matter who the Steelers are missing. It doesn’t matter if the Bengals have a boatload of Pro Bowlers heading into an important game between the two. If there’s a lot at stake, the Steelers almost always prevail. And even if they don’t win a particular battle, they always win the war in the end.
The Bengals and their fans can talk a good game, but the Steelers and their fans never believe them.
They’ve had no reason to since about Season 5 of Night Court.
When it comes to the Steelers and Bengals, the word “rivalry” continues to remain in quotation marks.