Conspiracy Theorist: 1/19

Travesty in the jungle

By Mark Luedtke

It’s tough being a fan of a small market sports team. Top free agents gravitate toward large markets. They get less TV coverage and, therefore, less TV money.

But the most frustrating aspect is the calls tend to go their way. This is such a well-known phenomenon in the NBA, it’s documented in a book called “The Jordan Rules,” but we’ve all seen New York teams regularly get the calls regardless of how good they are.

Bengals fans saw an especially egregious example in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs.

Most of the press has glossed over the officiating because the sports press is in business to attract fans to sports, not tell the truth. Plus, the Bengals made it easy by playing into the league’s hands.

The official narrative is the Bengals self-destructed, and that’s true as far as it goes. United Press International offers a typical analysis: “It was a fumble by running back Jeremy Hill which gave Pittsburgh new life and helped allow the Steelers to advance to a playoff game at Denver on Jan. 17.” The Bengals controlled the ball and their fate until Hill fumbled, but that was a physical error. They happen. The meltdown that followed was mental, the kind that earned the Bengals the nickname Bungles.

“The Bengals were their own worst enemy on the decisive drive when a 15-yard penalty on [Bengals linebacker Vontaze] Burfict for lowering his shoulder on receiver Antonio Brown, followed by a personal foul flag on cornerback Adam Jones, moved the ball into position for Boswell’s chip-shot game-winner,” UPI continues.

The personal foul penalty committed by Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko for running on the field and confronting a Steeler earlier in the game also supports the narrative.

As far as the sports propagandists are concerned, this is the entire narrative. Nothing else needs be said. But this narrative intentionally leaves out the actions of the referees. The press focuses on Burfict’s blow to the head of Steelers receiver Antonio Brown on the final drive, which was correctly flagged, but never mentions the more vicious blow to the head of Bengals running back Giovani Bernard by Steelers safety Ryan Shazier which caused a fumble and knocked Bernard out of the game but was not flagged.

Sports news outlet Deadspin describes it well: “Tonight’s already tense Steelers-Bengals Wild Card game turned very ugly after Ryan Shazier knocked out Giovani Bernard and forced a fumble with a devastating hit delivered to Bernard’s skull. Brain damage apologists at CBS defended the play as legal and simply called the play ‘unfortunate,’ because Bernard’s status in the play declared him ‘not defenseless.’”

Even former Bengal Cris Collinsworth, the color man calling game, defended this dirty hit. Earlier, a Steeler was not flagged for launching himself at a Bengal player’s head. You had to be naive not to suspect the fix was in.

That was confirmed when the officials saved the most blatant call and no-call for last. After Burfict’s flag for unnecessary roughness, Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter, an infamous former Steelers player well-known by long-time Bengals fans, illegally came on the field and began cursing out Bengals players. Bengals cornerback Adam Jones responded by pointing out what Porter was doing was a penalty. Instead of flagging Porter, the officials flagged Jones, setting the Steelers up for an easy field goal for the win. Porter will be fined, but that doesn’t help the Bengals.

This begs the question of why Porter was on the field. Maybe it was a bonehead move, but the Bengals make bonehead moves, not the Steelers. If it wasn’t a bonehead move, then Porter was confident he wouldn’t be flagged. In other words, he knew the fix was in, so he went on the field and agitated Bengals players with seconds left in the game to give the officials an excuse to call another penalty on the Bengals so the Steelers could kick the winning field goal. Which they did without running another play. Which is highly unusual.

Despite the Bengals’ mistakes and flagrant non-calls against Steelers, the Bengals would have won the game if not for the officials flagging Jones instead of Porter, giving the Steelers a 30-yard advantage and putting them in field goal position.

Bengals fans spent hard-earned money to watch that game only to have the victory stolen from them by the NFL. That’s because Pittsburgh has more fans and more bettors—and that means more money for the league.

The views and opinions expressed in Conspiracy Theorist are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

Mark Luedtke is an electrical engineer with a degree from the University of Cincinnati and currently works for a Dayton attorney. He can be reached at

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Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at

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