Chicago Bears (3-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-2)
In 2005, Bengals running back Cedric Benson was the Bears’ top draft pick (fourth overall). After three unsuccessful seasons with Chicago, though, Benson was cut and picked up by Cincinnati. Mr. Benson is still bitter about his experience in Chicago and angry at his teammates there. On Sunday he meets his old pals as two teams balancing playoff expectations and question marks, and two cities with proud competitive histories face off. It’s sure to be a grudge match.
Mr. Benson’s Bears years were rocky throughout. When he held out during contract negotiations, they called him a prima donna. When he got knocked out of the Super Bowl in the first quarter, they called him a wimp. His teammates took shots at him in practice, separating his shoulder, and they bad-mouthed him to the newspapers (“Teammates Turn in Benson,” reported the Sun-Times when he missed a mandatory meeting). After a couple of alcohol-related arrests (both cases were dropped), Mr. Benson was released by the Bears in 2008.
The Bengals picked him up in the middle of last season. But, as Benson told reporters Wednesday, this was only after the Bears tried to blackball him. “Anything negative that they could say,” complained Benson, “it was said.” (Bears coaches deny this.)
Regardless, Mr. Benson has undergone a renaissance in the Queen City. He is third in the league in rushing with 513 yards and has spurred the Bengals to a 4-2 record. Sunday he hopes to put the Bears behind him, literally.
Aside from Benson’s vendetta, there is another deep-seated rivalry between Cincinnati and Chicago, at least to history buffs. In the early part of the 19th century Cincinnati was the center of the meat-packing industry and was known as “Porkopolis.” By the 1860s, though, Chicago took precedence in the industry and stole the nickname as well. Soon after Ohio newspapers began calling Chicago “the Windy City” instead, not because of the weather, but because they felt Chicagoans were blowhards (Some think this is the origin of the moniker). They were full of bologna, so to speak.
Cincinnatians may not have sausage envy anymore, but they still probably feel a bit of a grudge against their bigger Midwestern neighbor, football-wise. Although the Bengals lead the all-time series between the clubs, 5-3, the Bears have won eight NFL championships. The Bengals haven’t won any.
These days the Bengals may actually be the more “windy” of the two teams, in the blowhard sense. The typhoon-like wide receiver Chad Ochocinco ruffled feathers this week with his remarks on Twitter. He claimed he would “run circles around” the Bears and “smoke [cornerback Charles] Tillman.”
Mr. Benson meanwhile has his own twisting rhetorical style. On Wednesday, when Chicago reporters asked him what went wrong with the Bears, he said, “That’s a good question. Some questions that you all ask are very interesting because I don’t have the answers. I think there was once upon a time where I would like to have known the answer. But now it kind of doesn’t really matter anymore.”
Still, Benson’s former teammates know this game will mean a lot to him. “I know he’s had this date circled for a long time,” Bears linebacker Lance Briggs told reporters. “He was a little worried we were cheap-shotting him. Now he can get revenge on everyone who he thought cheap-shotted him in our training camp.”
In the process Mr. Benson might earn some respect for the original Porkopolis.
Update: Benson tore apart the Bears, gaining 189 yards on the ground. Result: Cincinnati 45 – Chicago 10.
Philadelphia Eagles (3-2) at Washington Redskins (2-4)
Speaking of swine, Redskins fans, some of whom like to dress as dowdy female pigs, will welcome some of the league’s most committed – or most likely to be committed – nuts, the Philadelphia Eagles fans on Monday night.
It’s not a good time in Redskins Nation. They may have the worst 2-4 team in history. Their only wins were against teams that are now 0-6, and two of their losses came to teams that are now 1-5.
The Redskins front office responded to their latest debacle by sending mixed signals. They removed offensive play-calling duties from head coach Jim Zorn and gave them to new hire Sherman Lewis, who hasn’t worked in the NFL in five years. Then they gave Zorn a lukewarm vote of confidence by announcing they wouldn’t fire him — yet. It seems they want to let the alarm bells ring and ring for the rest of the season.
It’s all driving the Skins fans crazy. During last week’s loss, ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said, a crowd gathered around the owners’ box and chanted at Daniel Snyder, the billionaire meddler whom many consider the patriarch of Redskins dysfunction, “Sell the Team!” It was an Eagles-like show of negativity.
Now hog heads can vent their anger on their least favorite foes, Eagles fans. Many Redskins fanatics will tell you, whether you ask or not, they hate the Philadelphia faithful. They’d prefer to beat the Cowboys than the Eagles, but they’d rather beat up an Eagles fan.
The reasons are as old as the rivalry, which comprises 149 games (The Redskins have the advantage, 78-66-6). The Eagles, according to their enemies, are no-good, battery-throwing, uncouth barbarians. In 1990 their coach Buddy Ryan, a fan favorite, ordered the Skins to be carted off in “body bags.” The Eagles managed to knock two Washington quarterbacks out of the game.
The Eagles are coming off their own embarrassing week after losing to the floundering Oakland Raiders (2-4), and their fans are carrying around a lot of frustration. Many think head coach Andy Reid should be fired. Last week he only ran the ball 14 times and passed 49 times, even though the Raiders run defense is atrocious and Brian Westbrook gained 50 yards on 6 carries.
Eagles fans do not want to be humiliated again, especially not against a bunch of pigs. Get the body bags ready.
The Grudge Report
Each week we rank all the NFL games for their grudge factor: historic rivalry, player animosity, and on-field intrigue.
1) Minnesota (6-0) at Pittsburgh (4-2)
This game is a replay of Super Bowl IX, which Pittsburgh won 16-6. The Steelers went on to win five more Super Bowls including last year’s game while the Vikings have never gotten over the hump. Now Brett Favre’s surprisingly undefeated Minnesota team takes on the champions, and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, the former Minnesota defensive coordinator, takes on his old squad. It’s also a battle between the league’s most colorful fans – the Purple People Eaters – and some of its most rabid, the Pittsburgh faithful who bleed black and gold.
Result: Pittsburgh 27 – Minnesota 17
2) Philadelphia (3-2) at Washington (2-4)
The AP preview of this game is headlined “Eagles, Redskins Both Try to Avoid Embarrassment.” These fans don’t like to be embarrassed, especially not by their division rivals.
3) Chicago (3-2) at Cincinnati (4-2)
The Benson Bowl pits Cedric Benson against the team that discarded him.
4) N.Y. Jets (3-3) at Oakland (2-4)
The Jets defeated the Raiders in the 1968 AFL championship game, but the Raiders hold the all-time advantage 20-14-1. Their history includes the famous “Heidi” game when NBC switched over to the movie, “Heidi,” with a minute and five seconds left. The Raiders came from behind and scored two touchdowns, winning 43-32. Current Raiders QB Jamarcus Russell wouldn’t mind if the networks had blacked out some of his recent performance, but coming off a win against the Eagles, he hopes to stun the Jets, Heidi-style.
5) Arizona (3-2) at N.Y. Giants (5-1)
Since Kurt Warner left the Giants, these teams have each won NFC titles. Still, the Cardinals and Warner don’t get the respect that the big city team does. They’ll try to earn some as they take on a highly-rated New York defense that was picked apart last week by the Saints.
6) Atlanta (4-1) at Dallas (3-2)
Dallas linebacker Keith Brooking, a Georgia native who played for the Falcons for 11 years, will meet his old team in a battle for Southern bragging rights.
Result: Dallas 37 – Atlanta 21
7) New Orleans (5-0) at Miami (2-3)
Miami could have had Drew Brees. They have the Wildcat instead.
8) San Francisco (3-2) at Houston (3-3)
Two middling teams without much history meet, but this could be a good game as the reborn Niners and Frank Gore meet the vaunted Texans run defense.
9) Green Bay (3-2) at Cleveland (1-5)
This game would rank a lot higher if the Browns weren’t so bad.
10) San Diego (2-3) at Kansas City (1-5)
They’re in the same division, so they have that going for them.
11) Indianapolis (5-0) at St. Louis (0-6)
The Colts and the Rams duked it out valiantly in the 60s, but that was Baltimore and Los Angeles and a world away from this blowout special.
12) New England (4-2) at Tampa Bay (0-6)
Why is this game in London? Just to see how many metres Tom Brady can pass for?
13) Buffalo (2-4) at Carolina (2-3)
Each team is trying to salvage its season against an unfamiliar opponent. They’ve only played each other four times before.