Win trumps Bengals rivalry
Bud Dupree spent a few moments in the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room last week wistfully looking back to a time in the earlier stages of his career.
Because then he was a younger man eagerly anticipating embarking on his NFL journey? No.
Because the Steelers were legitimate annual Super Bowl contenders? Not quite.
Because he misses some of his teammates who have moved on since those first three seasons? Nope.
“Because when we were playing [the Cincinnati Bengals] then, every game people were ‘going to sleep,’ ” Dupree said with a wry smile. “[As in], having concussions every game. People were getting hurt every game. Paramedics were on stand-by.
“I mean, it’s fun to get that way.”
It was only 22 months ago a Steelers-Bengals game featured nine personal fouls, a player suspension, a subsequent $36,000 fine, three diagnosed concussions, two players carted off the field — including the serious spinal injury suffered by Ryan Shazier — and four others who left the game and did not return.
In part because both teams are 0-3 and because many of the chief protagonists of the recent surly history of the rivalry have moved on, a repeat isn’t expected when the teams meet Monday night.
And this makes Dupree sad. “It was fun while it lasted,” the fifth-year outside linebacker said. “There’s still a lot of chippiness going on, just from history, [from] both teams. But we’ve got a lot of new guys on our team, so they really don’t understand the feeling [of dislike for the Bengals].”
That lack of understanding starts at the top with one of the coaches. For the first time in 13 years, a Steelers-Bengals game won’t have a postgame handshake involving coaches Mike Tomlin and Marvin Lewis.
Lewis was fired a day after the Bengals’ 2018 season ended with a loss at Heinz Field. He was replaced by Zac Taylor, who is 25 years younger than Lewis and considered an offensive guru — a stark contrast to Lewis, who had a reputation as a defensive mastermind when he was hired by the Bengals 16 years earlier.
“It’s an interesting thing getting ready to play Cincinnati this time around because, particularly in recent years, the continuity that they’ve had in players and schematics [combined with] the continuity in players and schematics that we’ve had always started the strategy of preparation kind of on third base,” Tomlin said.
“We know and understand them intimately. They know and understand us intimately. But it’s interesting to look at the new regime and see some of the familiar faces but the different ways that they’re employing them. That produces some interesting challenges for us.”
Part of the Sean McVay coaching tree that has featured the NFL’s trendy “it” offense in recent years with the Los Angeles Rams, it be no surprise Taylor has revamped a Bengals offense that finished last and seventh-to-last, respectively, among NFL teams in total offense the previous two seasons.
Cornerback Joe Haden is cognizant of adjusting to a Cincinnati scheme that differs from the one he saw through nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns and Steelers.
“When you study a [team with a new] offense and it’s the beginning of the season, tendencies don’t really quite show so much,” Haden said.
With Vontaze Burfict, Adam “Pacman” Jones, Joey Porter, Marcus Gilbert and Antonio Brown gone, it’s possible the tendency for pre- and in-game trash-talking between the teams will decrease, too.
Then again, it would take some chutzpah for someone to do any talking when his team is entering the final day of September looking for its first win as the Steelers and Bengals are.
“We have been playing those guys for so long, so on both sides I think there is a lot of respect,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “But you know what this game is going to be, regardless of any of that. I mean, it’s still a rivalry. It’s still the AFC North. It’s still going to be one of those games that will be played physical. It’s just how it is.
“But mostly, each team is really, really looking for a win.”
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree said the old Steelers-Bengals rivalry was “fun.”