Monday, January 11, 2016

(167) Life Lessons From the Brutal Pittsburgh Steelers - Cincinnati Bengals 2016 Football Playoff Game

Antonio Brown dazed after receiving an illegal hit by Vontaze Burfict at the end of  the play.  

                                                  Professional football gives the fans a game full of strategy and superb athletic skill.     The men devote much of their adult lives to being the best football players they can be even though so many retire from the game with chronic injuries that will seriously affect their quality of life for the rest of their days, causing even premature death later.  Ben Roethlisberger, for example, has had many injuries…….knee, ankle, foot, shoulder, multiple concussions, etc.  This season four injuries knocked him out of games.  These players are beat up for life.  Jerome Bettis, the Steelers Hall of Fame running back, could hardly make it up and down the steps of his home the day after a game.  This weekly battering over 5, 10, even 15 years takes a toll on the body.
       Too often fans look upon these football players as gladiators rather than skilled athletes.  They love to see a good hit even if it takes a player out of the game.  In the Steelers – Bengals Wild Card Playoff game of January 9 it was a war of attrition.  Entering the game, the Bengals played without their starting quarterback, Tight End, and Defensive Tackle.  During the game Cincinnati’s stellar safety Reggie Nelson was the first Bengal injured.  Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick followed him to the sideline; then defensive tackle Domata Peko; later running back Giovanni Bernard suffered a concussion on a very questionable high hit by Ohio State alum Ryan Shazier of the Steelers; and finally Jeremy Hill was injured, who had previously put Cincinnati on the scoreboard a minute into the fourth quarter.  

     The Steelers entered the game without their two top running backs, their All-Pro Center, and a starting offensive lineman among others.   During the game FB Will Johnson (hamstring), LB Vince Williams (hamstring) and S Robert Golden (shoulder) were injured.

Ben Roethlisberger being carted off the field. 
       Towards the end of the 3rd Quarter, the Steelers were ahead 15 – 0.  The Defensive Back, Vontaze Burfict sacked Roethlisberger, apparently driving his knee into his shoulder while already down to put Big Ben out of the game with a severe shoulder injury. Numerous bloodthirsty Bengal fans cheered and jeered at the Steeler quarterback being knocked out of the game and taken to the dressing room, even throwing debris……very reminiscent of the gladiators and their fans in the Colosseum of ancient Rome.  

      Previously, after a couple of good blocks by Steeler Offensive Guard David De Castro ended up in a wrestling match, Burfict threatened in gangster style: “Watch your knees” and spit in his face.  Then came the Steeler meltdown as Cincinnati rallied to go ahead 16–15.  With less than two minutes left in the game Burfict intercepted a pass from Landry Jones, the backup quarterback, that apparently put the game away.  All the Bengals had to do was hold onto the ball.

Bengal linebacker Voltaze Burfit (55) closing in on the head of Antonio Brown (84) after the play was over (an incomplete pass) to knock him out of the game and the next playoff game with Denver for a severe concussion (see

   Steeler linebacker Ryan Shazier forced a fumble by Jeremy Hill and Pittsburgh had some life.  The injured Roethlisberger, only able to throw short passes with his injured and very painful shoulder, completed 5 of 7 short passes.  With 18 seconds left, he threw a longer pass that was incomplete.  With the play practically over and already defensed by a teammate, Burfict (55) made a gratuitous late hit with his helmet and shoulder for no logical reason to the head of Antonio Brown, the Steeler star receiver.  That left Brown on the ground with a concussion for a 15 yard penalty.  While the trainers were helping Brown off the field, there was some trash talk as Adam "Pacman" Jones slugged or pushed Steeler Coach Joey Porter and made contact with a referee for another 15 yard penalty, putting the Steelers within easy field goal range to win the game 18 – 16 with only seconds remaining.

Although the Steelers advanced to the next round on the road to the Super Bowl, no matter who had won the game, either team depleted by injuries, not to mention all of the bumps and bruises, would be at a big disadvantage against the next round opponent who has a bye, thus well rested with home field advantage.  With a forced fumble, a sack, and a key interception, Burfict quickly went from hero to goat, having initiated the Cincinnati meltdown that will be remembered by both Steeler and Bengal fans for as long as football is played.  Hopefully, some good will come out of this debacle.

 Discipline on the Field. Vontaze Burfict has a history of dirty play since he played for Arizona State (see because he has the potential to be a future Hall of Famer.  Teams would not draft Burfict; only the Cincinnati Bengals took a chance on him as they have done with other problem players in the past.  In the November Steeler - Cincinnati game, Burfict knocked Steeler star running back, Lavon Bell out of the game and the season.  To add insult to injury he then celebrated.  Thus in the three encounters he took out of games the three best Steeler offensive players.  In the December games Burfict was called for three unnecessary roughness penalties and severely fined.

  In each on the three games there were numerous unnecessary roughness penalties on both sides and over $200,000 in fines (3 Bengal, one Steeler player and two Steeler assistant coaches) this year plus Burfict’s suspension for three games next season (value $503,000 in salary loss).  Coaches have the responsibility of controlling their players and maintaining discipline regarding on the field behavior.  The National Football League must clamp down on persistent flagrant violations that involve the safety of the players.  Fines for these millionaire players are mere slaps on the wrist.  Suspensions from one to 10 games must be more frequent and a player suspended for the third time should be banished from the game for at least a year.  The coaches and teams should also be disciplined with the loss of draft choices.

Clearly, the Bengals self-destructed by their lack of discipline and loss of control in violating the rules of fair play.  In the real game of life where eternity is at stake we so often self-destruct through what is called sin in religious circles, i.e., serious violations of the rules of life, the 10 Commandments..….addictions to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, porn, gambling, sex outside of marriage, not to mention out of control anger, selfishness, greed, abortion, etc.  All of this lead to worse problems as broken lives and families as well as failure in life.
 The game of football should not be a battle of attrition between the Cincinnati Convicts and the Pittsburgh Gladiators.  Football in some ways is reminiscent of a battle.  Thus the military service academies have football teams for the development of their cadets.  However, even in war there are rules (the Geneva Convention) although atrocities are sometimes committed.  The knights of old fought with rules of chivalry and decency.

  Fans, coaches, and players must realize that the objective is to win a game, not to harm the opponent physically with body counts of players knocked out of the game.  May coaches at all levels use this Steeler-Bengals playoff game as a teaching tool and as an example of how undisciplined stupid play against the rules and loss of control will hurt the team and cause it to lose.  According to Matt Bokovitz, former head coach of Gallia Academy and currently an assistant coach at Meigs High School, coaches must teach and train the players of a very rough and physical sport to tackle and block in the proper way without purposely hurting the opponent.  There should be a zero tolerance on illegal hits that can do bodily harm (eviction from the game as Joey Bosa of Ohio State in the Notre Dame game) by both coaches and referees on targeting or dirty play which destroys the basic justification for student athletics.  That is to play hard, but also to play fair.  If not, there will be more career ending injuries and kids brain damaged or confined to wheelchairs with spinal injuries.  

The objective of sports at the scholastic and collegiate level is to build character; teach values; life lessons, and virtue; develop leadership and team building skills; train the participants how to compete under the ideals of good sportsmanship; sacrifice self for the common good of the team; form the athletes with such virtues and traits necessary for success in life as self-discipline, perseverance, reliability, spirit of hard work, etc.  That is in other words the five pillars of the NAIA Champions of Character program: responsibility, respect, servant leadership, integrity, and sportsmanship.  It’s NOT to win no matter how, not to form hatchet men or hit men or gladiators for the arena.

        Let us remember the memorable quote of the great sportswriter, Grantland Rice:  “For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes - not that you won or lost - But how you played the game.
After all, the Super Bowl trophy is fleeting and will give only a day or two of euphoria that in the years to come is remembered with fondness on occasion.  But the real Super Bowl trophy that really matters is the prize of Heaven and that's forever. See my blog #151: "You're in the Super Bowl". 

      As St. Paul said: “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.  Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.  Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing.  No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified”  (1 Cor 9:24-27).

         After the game was over, the players came down to reality from their game as they gathered up their wounded.  A group of Bengal and Steeler players got together for a moment of prayer.  God bless them and the fans too.  What transpired was just a game, but at stake was a lot of money, fame, and glory with great satisfaction for the fans who identify with the team.  But I guess life too is a game in many ways, but deadly serious; the stakes are much, much higher……….eternal life and everlasting happiness and glory with God, His angels, and His saints.  Our game plan is the Bible and Church teaching handed down from the apostles. The trophy is: “WELL DONE GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT.…….enter into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew:25:21).  


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