If you grew up in southwest Ohio in the 1990s, you probably didn’t think much about the Bengals-Steelers rivalry.
Truth is, there wasn’t really much of one. That was thanks in no small part to the fact Cincinnati’s NFL team was pretty much always terrible every year from 1991-2002.
And those years the Bengals were good at the end of the decade before that (the ‘80s), the Steelers weren’t.
So who really cared when the two teams got together? Unlike the Battle of Ohio, it was just another Sunday in the fall that the Bengals would probably lose.
But Marvin Lewis, the Pennsylvania native who was also a former Steelers assistant, began to turn things around upon coming to Cincinnati in 2003.
Then came 2005.
The Steelers came to Cincinnati and ruined what was supposed to be a coronation for the division champion Bengals, shredding not only their championship hopes but also the knee of quarterback Carson Palmer.
Nothing has ever quite been the same.
Since then, Pittsburgh still has the upper hand in the series, winning 15 of 21 meetings, including an 18-16 stunner last January in Cincinnati the Bengals appeared to have in hand before unraveling on both sides of the ball.
The Bengals’ next chance to win some pride in the series – not to mention an important divisional game – comes Sunday in Pittsburgh.
But it hasn’t always been this way.
The Bengals lost early to the Steelers in the regular season but struck back with a 38-31 win in Pittsburgh in December.
Alas, disaster struck almost immediately in the rubber match in the playoffs as Carson Palmer suffered a devastating knee injury via a hit from former Bengal Kimo von Oelhoffen. The Steelers won the game and went on to win the Super Bowl.
The Bengals won the first game in Pittsburgh in September but saw an ultimately disappointing season come to an end with a 23-17 overtime loss to the Steelers on New Year’s Eve.
After losing five in a row in the series, the Bengals served early notice this would be a surprising playoff season with a stunning come-from-behind 23-20 win over the Steelers in Cincinnati in September. They completed the season sweep with an 18-12 win in Pittsburgh in November but this time lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Jets.
After losing five more in a row in the series, the Bengals got one of their sweeter victories in the current run of success for Lewis, Andy Dalton, et al when Josh Brown’s field goal in the final seconds gave them a playoff-birth-clinching 13-10 win in Pittsburgh on the penultimate Sunday of the regular season.
A season sweep at the hands of the Steelers included an ugly 42-21 primetime loss in which Bengals punter Kevin Huber was viciously knocked out of the game (and for the rest of the season) by a hit by Terence Garvin.
The teams split in the regular season, but Pittsburgh got the last laugh with an 18-16 win in Cincinnati. You might have heard about it.