How seriously do you take your division rivalries? How seriously should the players take them? I suppose I’m inclined to be of the opinion that individuals, particularly players, ought to decide for themselves. We’ve seen how mixed opinions can be recently, however, when Dallas Cowboys star rusher Micah Parsons praised division rival Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Lane Johnson.
Returning to play through injury and now set to take part in the Super Bowl, Johnson’s performance is certainly commendable, and Parsons said as much. When Johnson responded to him with a handshake emoji, Parsons said, “Love you big bro! Keep going! Not many like you! Definitely not playing like you healthy or with a torn groin! Go win a bowl for our division!”.
That didn’t sit well with everybody, including former linebacker Bart Scott, who recalled his own rivalries, including those in the AFC North, with the Pittsburgh Steelers… and against one former Steeler in particular, who got an impromptu shoutout during yesterday’s episode of Get Up on ESPN.
“It took me five years of therapy not to punch Hines Ward in the face when I saw him on sight!”, he joked. “And this dude is talking about ‘I hope you have nice things, good luck big bro’? What the hell is this world and this game come to?”
“Go play badminton”, he added. “Become a pickleball player. That’s soft stuff, man. What the hell are we talking about? Wishing nice things for our opponents? These damn kids done lost they damn mind. Soft society”.
His tongue was planted firmly in cheek as he said all this, of course, but there’s almost always an underlying sentiment of sincerity behind such biting satire. Scott was certainly committed to playing up rivalries during his playing days.
That doesn’t mean that there is no place for respect among rivals. In fact, the Steelers and Ravens consistently talk about a mutual respect between the two organizations—sometimes contrasted, for each, with their relationship to the Cincinnati Bengals at different periods of the past decade or so.
Defenders, of course, have more reason to want to punch Hines Ward in particular than most wide receivers. After all, he’s the only one with a rule named after him because he smashed a defender’s jaw—against a divisional opponent.
Scott played his first seven years in Baltimore from 2002 to 2008. His Ravens lost to the Steelers in the conference finals that season. Then two years later, he lost to the Steelers in the conference finals again as a member of the New York Jets. So even when he left the AFC North, he still couldn’t escape his former rivals.