The Cincinnati Bengals upset the apple cart at Highmark Stadium, dismantling the Bills and their Super Bowl aspirations.
Then Eli Apple turned rotten.
Apple, a Bengals cornerback who relishes the villain role, derided Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs in a tweet on Monday evening. It may have included a veiled shot at Damar Hamlin.
“Cancun on 3,” Apple quote-tweeted, along with an emoji making heart hands, which has been Damar Hamlin’s signature salute as the football world has rallied around him. Hamlin wears No. 3 and “Play for 3” emerged as the Bills’ motto but the Cancun saying has been a popular sports insult.
Apple didn’t stop poking fun at Diggs and the Bills there. He sent more than 20 retweets, including: a screengrab of a Bills fan giving him the middle finger; videos portraying Josh Allen a fake in big games who couldn’t put up more than 10 points; a video implying Diggs and Allen are garbage; a meme ridiculing Diggs for watching opposing teams celebrate; making fun of Allen and Diggs’ secret handshake; a clip from the game of Apple gesturing while Diggs was on a knee being tended to by trainers; an animation of Apple slapping cutouts of the heads of Josh Allen, Gabe Davis, Stefon Diggs, Sean McDermott and a Buffalo wing.
“Someone get them in couples therapy,” Apple tweeted above a video of a visibly frustrated Diggs on the sideline late in the 27-10 loss to the Bengals. “I’ll pay on God.” Apple tagged Allen and Diggs in the tweet.
The CBS broadcast showed a demonstrative Diggs talking in the direction of Allen and a Bills staff member late in the game. Allen never looked up from his tablet on the bench.
Diggs received criticism for darting out of Highmark Stadium immediately after the defeat. Practice squad running back Duke Johnson chased down Diggs, who left the locker room before head coach Sean McDermott addressed the team, and persuaded the star wide receiver to briefly return. Diggs wasn’t available to the media on Sunday or Monday.
“He’s frustrated like we all are,” McDermott told reporters on locker cleanout day. “He was in today. He and I spoke, and I’ll leave it at that.” McDermott lauded Diggs’ competitiveness and passion that the team loves.
Apple knocked down a pass in the end zone as the Bills went for it on fourth-and-6 from their 20-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. He celebrated by running along the Bills sideline wagging a finger and then continued gesticulating, dancing, and lifting his arms to bask in the victory. A fan video on Twitter showed Apple doing snow angels, crawling in the snow and pointing finger guns at Bills fans. He threw snowballs at the crowd in another video.
Apple conducted postgame interviews leaning against a wall and smoking a cigar in the locker room.
“We are just the greatest,” Apple said.
Hamlin attended the divisional round game with his mother and younger brother less than three weeks after going into cardiac arrest and being resuscitated on the field in Cincinnati. The heart hands were included in nearly all of his Twitter and Instagram posts amid his recovery from hospital beds in Cincinnati and Buffalo.
Bills players honored Hamlin with No. 3 patches on their jerseys and hats, and repeatedly cupped their hands into a heart shape to celebrate touchdowns in their first game after Hamlin’s medical emergency. Hamlin’s heart-shape signal is pervasive in Buffalo, appearing on ice sculptures, murals, and T-shirts.
Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow already rankled Bills fans in a postgame interview and subsequent Instagram post.
“Better send those refunds,” Burrow told Tracy Wolfson, a barb referring to the league selling more than 50,000 tickets to Buffalo and Kansas City season-ticket holders for a potential Bills-Chiefs neutral-site AFC Championship game in Atlanta. The NFL had ticket presales for every potential site last week. His two-word Instagram caption said “Uninvited Guests”. The Bengals’ official account joined in with a “Make sure y’all get that refund” tweet.
The “Cancun on three” origin dates back to Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Van Exel in 1998 but the saying’s rebirth began as a back-and-forth between NBA players Patrick Beverley and Damian Lillard in 2020.
The Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers played in a seeding game inside the NBA Bubble. Lillard went to the free-throw line with the Blazers trailing by one point with 18 seconds left. He missed both free throws and the Trail Blazers lost. Beverly and Clippers teammate Marcus Morris jumped up and down, laughed, high-fived, mocked Lillard’s “Dame Time” celebration and rolled on the scorers table to troll Lillard. Beverley commented “Cancun on three” on Instagram to indicate Lillard’s season was over and he was sent packing on an early vacation.
The joke was on Beverley. The Trail Blazers squeaked into the playoffs. They were eliminated in the first round but the Clippers, who were thought to be title contenders, blew a 3-1 series lead and were upset in the second round.
“@patbev21 I guess I should extend this Cancun invite since I haven’t made my arrangements yet,” Lillard clapped back at Beverley on Twitter.
Beverley was a good sport.
“I see y’all in the Instagram comments talking about Cancun on three,” Beverley laughed during an Instagram Live. “You know I’m a real one. It’s so funny. I appreciate it. I be hearing y’all. That s—‘s funny, man. That’s a good one, though. I got to take it on the chin. I can’t even be mad. That’s what happens. If you’re throwing them out, you got to be able to take them, too.”
This all started when Nick Van Exel lost his job with the Lakers after joking about Cancun. On three. Los Angeles trailed the Utah Jazz 3-0 in the 1998 Western Conference Finals series. The team huddled at the end of practice before Game 4. Van Exel yelled “1-2-3 Cancun” instead of “1-2-3 Lakers”.
Los Angeles was swept by Utah and Van Exel, who was an All-Star that year, was traded to the Denver Nuggets.