Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict remains the central figure in the vortex of bitterness felt between the Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I hate Pittsburgh," Burfict said after practice Wednesday, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "It's not personal. That's just the way it is."
The feeling within the Steel City is likely mutual. Pittsburgh players believe Burfict celebrated after knowing star running back Le'Veon Bell was injured following a tackle in Week 8. Ben Roethlisberger then accused Burfict of intentionally hitting him below the knee in Week 14 -- a hit which brought a near $70,000 fine.
Burfict was the main character in the pregame skirmish between the sides in that final meeting in the regular season.
The fiery Burfict has a way of getting under the skin of opponents. He's also one of the keys to Saturday's tilt -- the linebacker earned a game-high 11 tackles in the most recent meeting.
As for Steelers players responding to Burfict's clipped take on hating Pittsburgh, on Thursday they toned down the rhetoric and went with the diplomatic approach.
"That's bad because we are such great guys over here," guard Ramon Foster said with a smile. "I honestly don't know why they hate us. I don't know. Maybe it is something personal, but it is just a game."
"If that's the way he feels, that's the way he feels," Miller said. "We know he is going to be ready to play not because he hates Pittsburgh, but because this is the playoffs and he's trying to get to the next round like we are."
Perhaps they don't want to provide bulletin board material or were mandated not to say anything inflammatory. We'll see the Steelers' true feelings towards the linebacker the first time Burfict is involved in post-whistle extracurricular activities.