Disgrace is the right word for it. Heated rivalries and hard hitting is nothing new for the NFL, but Saturday night’s wild card game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals showed a distortion so bad that it actually changed the outcome of the game. Rush Limbaugh starts off by rebutting Donald Trump’s odd argument that the NFL had gone too soft, when in fact the problem with the NFL and its lack of discipline is more the opposite — and a reflection of ourselves:
I have to talk about the Steelers and Bengals on Saturday night. Now, I made a study, too. Folks, I don’t know how many of you saw the game. I hope a lot of you. For those of you who missed it, I’m just gonna give you the high points of what happened here that determined the outcome in the final minute, but it was a disgrace.
It was a flat-out disgrace. I don’t even think the referees could have controlled this unless they had been willing to throw people out of the game long before the events late in the fourth quarter happened, and that just doesn’t seem to be a step the NFL wants to take. But the Cincinnati Bengals had been stymied for three quarters on offense, they came back and they had a one-point lead over the Steelers.
Vontaze Burfict, number 55, great linebacker for the Bengals, had had the game of his career. He sacked Roethlisberger and took him out of the game with an injured right shoulder. In fact, when Roethlisberger was being carted off the field, Bengals fans were throwing batteries and bottles and cans at him. This whole thing was a total breakdown.
In the stands, people were urinating on each other, Bengals fans were urinating on Steelers fans, Steeler fans were beating up on Bengals fans, and women were being beaten up in the face. There were five or six charges, I think, or crimes charged by the Cincinnati police once it was all sorted out, and it was all a direct result of what was happening on the field.
What was happening on the field started long before this sequence of events. In the first half, Steeler coach Mike Munchak drew a 15-yard personal foul for pulling the hair of Bengal safety Reggie Nelson, who went out of bounds at the end of a play. Play grew progressively chippier afterward, but it began to blow up in the third quarter when Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier lowered his helmet and hit Giovani Bernard, causing a fumble and a concussion but without drawing a flag. Bengals players, including Burfict, Adam “Pac-Man” Jones, and Jeremy Hill, raged on the sidelines and on the field, going out of control.
In the midst of this mayhem in the fourth quarter, replacement QB A.J. McCarron led Cincinnati to a comeback from 15-0 down to 16-15 with only a few minutes left. Burfict picked off Steelers backup QB with less than two minutes, which should have sealed the victory — only the three most out-of-control players on the Bengals ended up handing the game to the Steelers. Hill fumbled as he tried to gain extra yardage that Cincy didn’t need, and then Burfict made the hit on Brown that led to the penalty and Jones’ rage that led to another.
Rush can’t believe that the message from that game was that the NFL has gone “soft”:
Saturday night’s game was not an example of the NFL going soft. That game was brutal, and a lot of the brutality was not called for in terms of penalties. This was not a wussified NFL on display Saturday. It was quite the exact opposite, in fact.
So Trump coming out and talking about the wussification of the NFL after that game? I’m scratching my head, what game did he watch? So it tells me Trump has a radar, and he’s aware of what people are saying about various things and decides to chime in now and then if he thinks that it’s politically opportune, but this was not the game to accuse the NFL of wussifying. This was not the game to accuse the NFL of becoming a bunch of pansies. This was not the game where you complain and moan about the referees going soft. I mean, there’s a reason why some in the media are calling it a prison gang riot.
Even as a die-hard Steelers fan, I found this game disturbing and disgraceful … on both sides. There is something wrong with the NFL that reflects our culture at large, though, and it’s worth discussing. It is the narcissistic, self-centered impulse that makes everyone larger than their team, communities, schools, whatever. It’s the same impulse that leads to demands for trigger warnings, for safe spaces, and is caused by the same special-snowflake syndrome that drives those.
I’ve been watching NFL football for almost 50 years, and the league tolerated harder hits in the past while ignoring the significant damage they caused. Attempting to minimize injuries, especially when athletes are paid as much as they are, is just good business sense, not going “soft.” But even in the hard-hitting days, the athletes understood that their excesses could cost the team, and accepted the discipline that minimized that. More and more, that discipline has given way to “emotion,” as announcers call it, or what the rest of us call displays of narcissistic self-indulgence. Burfict, Jones, and to a lesser extent Hill just displayed a particularly toxic form of this trend, and it came together in an orgy of undisciplined violence that almost literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. But they were not the only players exhibiting that, nor were the Bengals the only team on the field exhibiting it, either.
The Steelers get to move on in the playoffs after this disgrace, but it’s not a game that should make anyone’s highlight reels.