From Carson Palmer's “I hate the Steelers” mantra to Bill Cowher's appropriation of the “Who Dey” chant to the read-between-the-lines undertones regarding the Steelers' injuring of Palmer in the playoffs, it's obvious this is now a circle-the-calendar game.
To the Bengals (2-0), Sunday's game - the teams' first matchup since Palmer badly injured his left knee during Pittsburgh's 31-17 playoff victory in January - is a chance to validate their belief they are the AFC North's best team. That they could have won the Super Bowl, not the Steelers, if Palmer hadn't been hurt.
To the Steelers (1-1), it's chance to get their own play back to a championship level, which it hasn't been so far, and to quiet the talk that the balance of power in the division and maybe the AFC has shifted to Cincinnati.
“I won't say they're our biggest rival, but they've definitely made it a good rivalry now,” Steelers linebacker Joey Porter. “It's about time they got it to the point where you can recognize it as a rivalry.”
Especially since it's mostly been a tepid dislike until now, one that would only occasionally rear up with a good game here or a spicy comment there. But it's a clearly distinguishable one now after decades of domination by one or the other - the Steelers in the 1970s (14-5)- and 1990s (13-7), the Bengals in the 1980s (13-6).
That all changed when former Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen badly injured Palmer's knee by rolling across it following a 66-yard completion on Cincinnati's first pass completion in the playoffs. Many Bengals felt the injury altered the outcome of the game, and there still seems to be some hesitation to accept von Oelhoffen's explanation there was no intent to injure - even if Palmer has absolved him.