The NFL Water Cooler: The Pro Bowl Heals All Wounds?

Jeremy Fowler, the ESPN Steelers guy, wrote one of the sort of filler pieces we’re all having to come up with right about now, unless we write about the Panthers or the Broncos. Titled Steelers and Bengals Call a Truce, Sort Of, it details a friendly competition between DeAngelo Williams and Tyler Eifert to get signatures from military personnel on a Pro Bowl helmet.

I’ve linked it, but you aren’t going to find out much more by clicking on the link. I told you we are all desperate at the moment. Fowler ends with the following statement:

The reality is NFL players don’t really hate each other off the field, even when the Bengals and Steelers are testing that theory on the field. They see each other at events and training facilities like this all the time.

Some years back Ryan Clark made waves by greeting various Ravens players in a friendly manner after a game the Steelers lost. There were plenty who were screaming to high heaven. How dare he?

This sort of misapprehension by fans is “validated” by statements such as those made by David DeCastro and Vontaze Burfict. As you might expect, DeCastro’s version was more measured, even guarded: “We don’t like them. They don’t like us. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter.” Vontaze Burfict, on the other hand, was brief and to the point: “I hate Pittsburgh.”

But really, I suspect the whole thing is a lot more nuanced than many seem to think. Some fans at least appear to believe that the players should maintain a boiling hatred for other teams, especially those who are divisional rivals.

It wouldn’t surprise me if there is some element of pumping up such feelings right before running on the field. But off the field, it’s hardly reasonable to expect this. For most players, it probably isn’t like this on the field either. This is, after all, their profession. Nor, in my opinion, is it desirable. There’s enough mayhem going on as it is.

Perhaps in the days before free agency, when players stayed with a team their entire career, or at least as long as the team wanted them, maybe the rivalries were a bit more meaningful off the field. But nowadays, when you are perfectly well aware that any of those guys across the line of scrimmage could end up as your teammate next year or even next week it all seems rather silly.

There are, of course, bound to be some feelings between teams who represent major roadblocks to a championship for each other. The Steelers are accustomed to being that for various teams, and lately the Bengals and Ravens have been that, at least some of the time, for the Steelers.

And then there are just the “angry men.” Anyone who feels it is okay to just take out an $80,000 camera along with its cameraman, both of whom are on the sideline in a completely official and non-combatant capacity, just because he feels like it, has some issues. And I suspect many of the other players have issues with guys like this who appear to have little regard for the health and livelihood of their colleagues. Such players put everyone at risk.

But for the most part these guys work together on union committees, work out together at the various elite training facilities, and generally probably get along as well as any other ill-assorted group of people in any type of work environment. Like Terry Tate, Office Linebacker, a guy appearing to play in a single-minded frenzy of white-hot hatred might turn around at any moment and smile at someone they don’t need to punish. I suspect that outside of the league-sanctioned violence against one another they mostly get along to varying degrees.

Admittedly, the recent hostilities in the Bengals/Steelers contests have guys feeling they must defend their teammates, at least publicly, especially when the hostilities get as hostile as they did in the Wild Card game. But this is frankly an exceptional situation, and even with this I suspect the majority of the players on both teams are happy to just move on.

So don’t be shocked to see the players at the Pro Bowl appearing to enjoy each other’s company, even if they are members of warring teams. DeAngelo Williams and Tyler Eifert being part of a friendly competition there is about as surprising as a forecast of rain and cool temperatures in late January here in South Wales. (Or pretty much any time, for that matter.)

And I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t wait until there are some meaningful football events involving the Steelers to discuss. I’m guessing Jeremy Fowler feels the same way…


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