It didn't start until 1970 when the AFL's Cincinnati Bengals were placed in the newly former AFC Central Division along with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL, but the rivalry that has ensued between the two river cities has been among the most intense in pro football. The Steelers with their seven Super Bowl championships have certainly had the better of it over the years, accumulating a 50-32 record, but history shows us that "throwing out the records" in this rivalry is more than just a cliche.
The Steelers have taken two straight in this series as they enter Paul Brown Stadium for Sunday's contest. The winner on Sunday will have a leg up in a hotly contested three team AFC North battle between the Bengals and Baltimore Ravens, both at 6-2, and the Steelers only a half game back at 6-3. It promises to add to a litany of great games over the years that have only served to thicken the bad blood between these two teams.
The first ever meeting between the two teams was also Pittsburgh's first ever appearance on Monday Night Football in November of 1970. The upstart Bengals under the direction of Paul Brown were coming off a playoff appearance in only their second year of existence. The Steelers, on the other hand, were coming off a dismal 1-13 campaign under the leadership of their new head coach, a Paul Brown disciple, Chuck Noll. Many in Pittsburgh were already certain that Noll was the wrong man for the job, but others saw promise in his young squad. Trailing 10-7 in the fourth quarter, quarterback Terry Hanratty led the Steelers to a comeback 21-10 victory.
In 1975, Brown's Bengals would only lose three regular season games. Two of them would come to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite a talented offensive cast that included quarterback Ken Anderson, wide receiver Isaac Curtis and tight end Bob Trumpy under the direction of offensive coordinator Bill Walsh, the Steelers, not the Bengals, would win the division that year by virtue of a 35-14 win in Pittsburgh in December. That win sent the Bengals on the road to Oakland for the playoffs where they would lose a 31-28 heartbreaker to the Raiders. The Steelers would win their second Super Bowl that year.
So it went in the '70s with Ken Anderson and the Bengals being overshadowed by the Steel Curtain in Pittsburgh. How things might have been different for Cincinnati had they been able to get past their rivals from up the river.
The Bengals would turn the tables in the early 1980s, winning six straight games against the Steelers. Bradshaw and the Steelers were aging and the Bengals were hitting their stride under Forrest Gregg. The Bengals would make two Super Bowl appearances in this decade and won the head to head matchup between the two teams 13-6. The odd number of games was due to one of the 1982 games being canceled due to the NFL players strike.
Chuck Noll retired and Bill Cowher took over the reigns as the Steelers reasserted themselves in the 1990s while the Bengals fell into despair. Pittsburgh won 13 of the 20 contests in this decade. The Bengals got some measure of revenge when former Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell led the Bengals to a season sweep in 1998. The Bengals only won three games that year, but two were over the hated Steelers, including a classic 25-20 comeback win where Carl Pickens topped 200 yards receiving.
The teams met for their first and only post season contest in the infamous 2005 game in Cincinnati. On the game's second play, former Bengal Kimo von Oelhoffen fell into quarterback Carson Palmer's planted left leg, shredding his knee. Despite Palmer's absence, the Bengals jumped out to a 10-0 lead. The Steelers ultimately won 31-17 en route to another Super Bowl victory. The following year, Cincinnati needed only to beat the Steelers in the season's final game in Paul Brown Stadium to secure a playoff berth. Jeff Reed tied the game with 1:03 remaining, but the Bengals drove down to get in range for a Shayne Graham field goal that would send them to the playoffs and the Steelers home for the season. He missed. Ben Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes in overtime and he broke a tackle and raced in for the winning score, crushing the Bengals' hopes once more.
Cincinnati won both contests in 2009 when they swept the AFC North and went to the playoffs. The Steelers won both games last year.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis passed out extra chin straps to his team after they watched film today. Lewis, a Pittsburgh native, has been through this rivalry enough to know that there will be some serious collisions taking place on Sunday.
Hide the women and children. The Bengals and Steelers are about to go at it again.
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