I grew up a Browns fan.
You can't raise a child that way these days, social services would take the child away from you. It's too cruel. But I recall being 12 years old at a game, in the Dawg Pound, and drunk - and that shapes who you become as a person ... mostly, a heavy drinker attracted to things which will disappoint and hurt you, but I digress.
Growing up a Browns fan in the Cincinnati area meant I put up with a lot of shit. Oh, I dished plenty of it back ... over 20 years ago. I was at a Monday Night Football game in 1989 in Cincinnati, which the damn Bengals won 21-14, and was told to fuck off by a grown man. I was 13, but wearing my Browns jacket was reason enough for that I suppose.
That dude has come to sum up Bengals fans in my mind, though: Always ready to tell a kid to fuck off, or maybe even fight them, if the fans are drunk enough. And have superior numbers.
For a time, I thought they were the worst fans in football, and you have to remember, despite where I live, I've been to as many games in Cleveland as I have in Cincinnati. I watched grown men in rubber dog masks eat Milkbones, and still found Cincinnati fans crude.
Then I met some Steelers fans.
I called into Mo Egger's show a few years ago, and went off about Steelers fans. I called them knuckle dragging, mouth breathing pieces of crap who lived in the past. While I do have a couple good friends who are fans of the Steelers, by and large, their fan base is obnoxious - at least as I've experienced it in Cincinnati and Cleveland - full of front runners and shit talkers without any point other than how many rings "their" team has won.
I was at the playoff game two years ago, when Gio Bernard got knocked out. There was a lot of bullshit going on during that game. The officiating crew had proven the prior month they couldn't handle those two teams, yet instead of being assigned to go home for the offseason, or to the more benign Packers/Redskins game, they were back in the Queen City, to once again let shit get out of hand. Seriously, those guys were the mom of four in the grocery store who's had it up to here, and you're all getting timeouts, she really means it, and knock it off, and oh my God mommy needs wine!
I saw fights on the field. I saw fights in the stands. I saw a man punch a woman as we were walking out after the game - and on and on. Maybe if I were 15 years younger and three times drunker, it would have been fun. It wasn't fun.
And that's really what this comes down to: Football, even the National Football League (you get residual checks for saying the full name versus NFL, or so every fucking sportscaster who over-covers the sport leads me to believe) is a GAME. It's supposed to be FUN.
This isn't fun anymore - and I'm on the outside looking in. I have no dog in the fight (or any fight, if you watch the Browns roll over week after agonizing week), and it's tiresome to hear about the penalties and bullshit and the absolute lack of control the teams have over their players, their fans, and themselves.
On sports squawk this morning, JuJu Bee Simon Says, or whatever the hell his name is, said the right words about his block on Vontaze Burfict while someone in the background kept screaming, "That's karma!"
Well, that was true. Burfict is a throwback, physical player - 25 years ago, he'd have been practically worshipped for his style of play. But this is the newer, gentler National Football League (keep those checks coming, fellas) where we don't headhunt, except when we do, and we don't want concussions, because we recently found out (were exposed) head injuries are bad things and can maybe possibly just might have a slightly serious (potentially deadly) long-term effect.
So, sorry, Tez, wrong place and wrong time, although I do not deny your talent and instincts.
But while he's somewhat the symbol of this rather lopsided rivalry full of cheap shots, name calling and hair pulling - looking at you, Joey Porter - it's all over. The Bengals racked up 70's Raiders levels of penalties last night, two years after gifting a playoff win with 30 penalty yards in the last 30 seconds of a game.
It's not even good football at this point. The Steelers are playing rope a dope with the Bengals, knowing they will penalize themselves out of the game eventually, even if it takes all 12 rounds.
Would I rather watch the trainwreck that is the Cleveland Browns at this point?
Not especially - but if this is the alternative, then don't ask why I'm not watching, National Football League. (And now those checks are getting cancelled. Damn.)
You're trying to clean up your product, but not really, because when it comes to these two games a year, both teams and sets of fans pull it together to show their collectives asses - and in primetime, no less. Years ago, this would have been celebrated, but it's hard to justify your $50 million salary when you can't bring these franchises and their fans into the 21st Century, isn't it?
This game and this rivalry are old - and I'm a fan of genuine dislike in sports, and true rivalries. UC/Xavier, for instance, play hard, jab each other in the media, I love it. That at least goes back and forth, with each side winning occasionally. It's somewhat even, and it's entertaining.
This Steelers/Bengals thing is more one-sided than Homer Simpson against a table of donuts.
It isn't fun anymore.
So fuck 'em both.