As it turns out, players don’t always have a ton of divisional pride. At least not when it comes to their divisional rivals having postseason success. Take the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Cameron Heyward, whose team did not qualify for the playoffs this year.
Asked on the latest episode of his podcast who his pick was for the Super Bowl this season, he said, “I’ll say [Kansas City] wins it all. Just for my sake so nobody else from the AFC North wins”.
Of course, he said it with a laugh, but he probably means it, too. After all, the Steelers losing to the Bengals this year helped them to get to where they are now, and the same was the case for the 2021 season when Cincinnati came within a minute of actually winning the Super Bowl.
Still, that’s an organizational discussion. Individual players can be another story. After all, everybody in the league just about probably has former college teammates who are on other teams, or alumni from their school whom they followed and rooted for and wanted to see their own team draft.
And let’s be honest, it’s hard at times not to like quarterback Joe Burrow, certainly one of the most talented young quarterbacks in the game. He’s already got five postseason wins over the past two years and is hoping to make it seven over the next few weeks.
“Joe is very even-keeled and a cool guy”, he conceded when podcast guest Seth Meyer confessed that he found Burrow to be a likable guy. “He doesn’t have that [Tom] Brady quality that just makes you hate him in the middle of a game”.
The Steelers, like everybody else, have a long history with Brady. Although it was long before his own time, Brady’s New England Patriots twice kept Pittsburgh out of the Super Bowl in 2001 and 2004 under highly suspect circumstances, accused of cheating by stealing signals that had been scouted via improperly obtained video recordings.
Not that Heyward hasn’t experienced the frustration of running into Brady in the postseason firsthand. In fact, it was his Patriots who ended the Steelers’ last promising postseason run in 2016. After notching victories in the first two rounds, New England laid it on them in the AFC championship game.
Pittsburgh hasn’t won a postseason game since, running on six years now. Still, that’s no comparison to the three-decade streak the Bengals finally ended just last year. Prior to their three wins in 2021, their last playoff victory came in 1990.
They lost eight postseason games in a row, including two to the Steelers in 2005 (the year they won the Super Bowl) and again in 2015 (which marked Pittsburgh’s own first playoff win up to that point since the 2010 AFC championship game).
Heyward was actually injured for that 2016 run, so he’s never even experienced a conference final for himself. He’s only been on the field for one postseason win since being drafted in 2011. From that perspective, it would be hard to blame him if he did have a little hate for Burrow and his five postseason wins over the past 13 months.