RAVENS-STEELERS RIVALRY DEEPER THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE
Once the Baltimore Ravens reached halftime on Sunday with a comfortable lead and most assuredly following Jacoby Jones 105 yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the fans of the Purple and Black immediately turned their attention to the team that wears black and gold and the city it represents.
It is Steelers week in Baltimore and Ravens week in Pittsburgh and make no mistake about it; there is genuine dislike amongst the fan bases. This rivalry is every bit as good as Duke and North Carolina in college basketball, Yankees and Red Sox in baseball and better than the Bears and Packers, or Redskins and Cowboys rivalry in today’s NFL.
I probably should have written the disclaimer in that I hate Pittsburgh, the colors black and yellow and Sister Sledge, but more on that later. I'm sure my Pittsburgh counterparts feel the same and that is just with me.
The Ravens and Steelers may not have the years in terms of length when it comes to rivalry history, however, the cities of Pittsburgh and Baltimore most certainly make up for that difference.
The hatred is deep and while we are taught that “Hate” is a bad word, and should never be used, when it comes to sports and the black and gold, it applies. I’d help a Steelers fan change a tire or give them a lift if it were raining, but they would have to take off the jersey in order to get in my car and I’d need to use that ugly yellow towel to wipe the tire residue from my hands.
In fact, there is a Youtube video circulating about what Ravens fans do with those towels in Baltimore. Luckily, you can see it by clicking here. While no fan worth their salt would ever want to see a player get injured and miss time from a football game, I can assure you there aren’t many in the Charm City shedding any tears for the fact that Steelers QB, Ben Roethlisberger suffered a shoulder sprain and rib injury and may miss Sunday’s night’s big game. Nope, in fact, you may hear many Ravens fans even saying things such as “God Bless the Kansas City Chiefs”. Can I get an “Amen” Ravens fans!
The rivalry between the Steelers and Ravens evolves every time these two teams take the field. The success of each club during the past decade has helped blossom this rivalry into one of the most anticipated games of the year in the NFL.
Sunday night marks the seventh time in the last eight seasons that a Ravens/Steelers matchup will be featured on primetime TV, with five of those games played in Pittsburgh. The country as a whole love these games and, why not? The games are usually dramatic and significant to AFC North/playoff final standings.
WHO BENEFITS WITH 2 GAMES IN 3 WEEKS?
To add further fuel to the fire that is Steelers-Ravens, some sicko in the NFL scheduling office thought it might be a good idea to watch these two teams play twice in three weeks this season. Not only is this one of the dumbest things the NFL has ever done, it could potentially ruin both teams seasons, no matter the outcome.
It takes several weeks for the wounds to heal whenever these two get together. Now, you have them playing in late November and early December. It is possible that these two teams could beat up on each other so badly this time of the year that healing may not occur in time for a solid Super Bowl run for either.
It’s not as if both are the picture of health entering the contest. Big Ben went down on Monday with the shoulder injury and his team has been without eight starters for various lengths at one time or another already this season. Pittsburgh is still missing key players such as Troy Polamalu and it has been well documented how banged up the Ravens are. There is no Ray Lewis, no Lardarius Webb and a host of others like Haloti Ngata and Jimmy Smith are limping around with regularity.
This rivalry and the next three weeks will do nothing to help the injury report for either team.
RAVENS WITH CURRENT RUN OF BETTER SUCCESS:
The players have said they do not like each other, although there is mutual respect, this is a rivalry where friendships are not readily hatched during the off-season.
Former New England Patriot Willie McGinest and now NFL Network Analyst says, “When you talk about a rivalry, you talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. The one thing you talk about is trash-talking, smash-mouth, hard-hitting football games. These guys are going out there, and they genuinely do not like each other. So, you know that these games are going to be action-packed from the start to the end.”
The Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer adds, “The mood between these AFC North cutthroats could be described as ‘extreme dislike.’ Trash talking leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side where everyone who plays in this matchup comes out with black eyes. The Steelers, with their two recent Super Bowl wins, had been used to being the division bully, but the Ravens knocked them around for a sweep last season. Although Flacco vs. Roethlisberger is nice, we prefer the naughty of the defenses hard at work.”
The success of these two teams plays into this great war of attrition on the field. Currently, the Ravens seem to riding the wave of better success in terms of having the most recent division title and dominating the division. The Ravens have played 68 consecutive games without having a losing record, the NFL’s longest such active streak. Baltimore has not been below .500 since starting 2-3 in 2008.
Baltimore, which has won 11-consecutive AFC North games, leads the division by one game over Pittsburgh. The Ravens last divisional loss was against; you guessed it, the Steelers on Dec. 5, 2010, when Pittsburgh won at M&T Bank Stadium, 13-10.
Over the last three seasons, the Ravens have won four of six games, including three of the last four and two in a row. With a win on Sunday night, the Ravens have an opportunity to win three in a row over their hated rivals for the first time since they did so from Nov 2005 until Christmas Eve 2006.
Three points have decided five of the last six games and Baltimore has won the last two in Pittsburgh in come from behind fashion on the arm of QB Joe Flacco. Last season, Flacco led the Ravens on a 92-yard drive with less than two minutes in the game. He hit Torrey Smith with a 26-yard TD pass with 18 seconds to play to give Baltimore the 23-20 win. With 32 seconds remaining the year before, Flacco hit WR T.J.Houshmandzadeh on an 18-yard strike to beat the Steelers 17-14.
In each of the last two seasons, the Ravens and Steelers have produced identical 12-4 records. The Ravens won the AFC North in 2011 thanks to a sweep of the season series and the Steelers did in 2010. Pittsburgh’s 2010 division title was a result of beating the Ravens in Baltimore in early December when S Troy Polamalu sacked and stripped Joe Flacco of the football with less than four minutes remaining in the game. Pittsburgh recovered the ball and eventually scored the game winning TD.
Both franchises and the cities they reside in are storied members of the NFL. The Steelers of the 70's and now the 2000’s and The Baltimore Colts of the 50's, 60's and 70's have contributed numerous Hall of Fame players and both organizations had a big hand in making the NFL what it has become today.
Of course, Pittsburgh’s six Super Bowl rings are a big reason why their fans believe they own ultimate bragging rights in the Steele City. There is even a No-No-Nanette moment between the cities football franchises that is loaded with irony. While it may not be old Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees to fund his above named Broadway musical, Pittsburgh and Baltimore football does have a similar moment with a legendary player.
Baltimore football fans will forever be thankful to old Steelers coach Walt Kiesling.
With their ninth round selection in the 1955 NFL college draft, the Steelers drafted a small framed quarterback from Louisville. Kiesling cut the QB without ever seeing him take a snap in practice.
Unlike No, No, Nanette, which did not see its first performance until five years after the Ruth sale and two years after Frazee sold the Red Sox, this former Steeler would land in Baltimore and go on to do some pretty amazing things for the Baltimore Colts and the city as well during the next 13 seasons.
At the time of his retirement in 1973, Pittsburgh native Johnny Unitas, the superstar quarterback of the Baltimore Colts, held virtually every career passing record that existed in the National Football League. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, Unitas is yet another storied footnote to a rivalry between the two cities.
SIMILARITIES ARE SCARY
From the front office to the playing field, today’s version of the Steelers and Ravens are almost identical in their build. The Ravens are on their third coach in franchise history, and the Steelers are on just their third coach in 30 plus years. Since moving to Baltimore in 1996, the Ravens, led by GM Ozzie Newsome, have had 17 drafts and selected 17 players in the first round. These picks have earned an amazing 51-combined Pro Bowls and several All-Rookie honors.
Led by Ray Lewis and his 13 appearances, the Ravens have had 76 Pro Bowlers since arriving in Baltimore. During that same time, Pittsburgh has had 65 Pro Bowlers. No other two teams have sent more players combined.
Both the Steelers and Ravens were built on stout defenses that featured All-Pro linebackers and all-world safeties. The Ravens and Steelers have combined to win six of the 12 defensive player of the year awards since the 2000 season. For Baltimore, Ray Lewis (2) Ed Reed and Terrell Sugggs captured the award, as Troy Polamalu and James Harrison claimed it for the Steelers.
Both now have a quarterback from a small school (Delaware and Miami of Ohio) that has come into the league and surprised everyone with their play. While Ben Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl Rings and Joe Flacco does not own one yet, the two are very much considered strong-armed signal callers with a lot of football left to play in their careers.
However, defense is the mantra that these teams pride their selves in. The Steel Curtain vs. Purple Reign. The question is debated between the fans of the two teams on every bar stool in every nook and cranny of both cities. Which defense was better, the 2000 Ravens or any of the Steel Curtain defenses.
Baltimore has finished in the Top 10 in total defense (yards allowed) nine-straight seasons. Since the 1970 merger, only six teams have produced at least eight-consecutive seasons with a Top 10 defense. Baltimore (9) and------wait for it------- Pittsburgh (12) boast the NFL’s longest active streaks of ranking in the Top 10.
First, it was Ray Lewis vs. LeVon Kirkland, then Joey Porter, and now James Harrison. Is it Ed Reed or Head and Shoulders? The future Hall of Famers on these rosters is scary.
No.52 has stopped the Bus, Willie Parker, Deuce Staley and several years ago broke the shoulder of a loud mouth rookie on Monday night football that still happens to be running the football for the Steelers, Rashard Mendenhall. Ravens fans have watched as Kordell and Big Ben beat them in heartbreaking fashion. Flacco returning the favor recently.
The Ravens’ five playoff wins over the past four seasons tie Pittsburgh for most in the NFL. All four of the Ravens’ playoffs losses over the past four seasons have come at the hands of the team that represented the AFC in the Super Bowl. The Patriots, Colts and 2010 Steelers all went on to lose the Super Bowl. Can you guess which team won it, if you said the 2008 Steelers, you'd be right.
CITIES AND FANS MORE ALIKE THAN YOU MAY REALIZE:
Speaking of the fans, their hatred of each other is not simply derived from football but because the cities and their way of life are eerily similar. They say opposites attract, and Baltimore and Pittsburgh are anything but. In fact, these two cities could not be any more alike.
Pittsburgh and Baltimore are both cities that sit on the water, rose to economic prominence through the industrial age, almost died with its decline. Each utilized the waterfront to revitalize downtown, adding tourism as a measure of replacement for the loss of industrial income.
A major part of both cities' revival was the building of four new stadiums. All four were built in similar fashion. The O’s (Camden Yards) and Bucs (PNC Park) used the classic baseball stadium looks, while the Ravens (M&T Bank Stadium) and Steelers (Heinz Field) built stadiums that were perfect fits for their cities, and architecturally, looked outstanding, as stadiums go.
People in the “Burgh” or Bawmer Hon” even have distinct accents when talking. Bawlmerese would sound like this from the front stoop on the white marble steps, "How 'bout dem O's hon" and “Kmoin FlakO beet da terble tals fer once.”
Pittsburgheese is alive and well and "Yins see da Stiller’s lose to Baldeemore," or “Dwana go dahn da korner bahr and ketch da BucOs game”, are very popular in the Steele city.
Helping those dialects along at times are the beers each city claims as their own. Even though both are no longer brewed in each city, both are forever linked with the cities sports franchises. In Baltimore, it is National Bohemian, but you would be wise to ask for a "Natty Boh" while out on the town.
I purchased a tee shirt last season that proclaimed the Ravens as being “Super Boh Bound”. In Pittsburgh it’s, what else, Iron City Beer. Now brewed in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, unopened Iron City cans appear on EBay with Steelers Super Bowl Champion teams from the 70's quite frequently up for bid.
Here is a word of caution, both beers, if consumed in large quantities, will make you wish you didn't the next day.
FOOTBALL IS NOT THE ONLY SPORT THAT CREATED THIS RIVALRY:
Let’s not kid ourselves here; football is the fuel that feeds this rivalry and the hatred amongst the fans. However, the sports rivalry is far deeper than just the pigskin. I personally hate the colors black and gold but I cannot deny the success those colors have had vs. the teams I love. That success in other sports adds to this great rivalry. That, and the fact that Baltimoreans refuse to acknowledge Pittsburgh’s success in those other sports drives people in the Burgh crazy.
Real Baltimore football fans know the Steelers only have a two-championship advantage in football. That’s right just two. Not the five they would have you believe.
The city of Baltimore is the proud owner of two Super Bowls and two NFL Championships. Pittsburgh made just one playoff (1947) appearance from the time of their inception in 1933 until they reached the playoffs again in 1972.
While that may be splitting hairs, Baltimore sports fans cannot deny the Steelers recent success since the 1970 NFL merger. Eight Super Bowl appearances and six Lombardi trophies, three and two respectively since the Ravens last and only appearance in 2000.
Adding to the hatred is the Pittsburgh Pirates World Series success against the Orioles on two separate occasions. As a 9-year old little boy in attendance at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 17, 1979, I can still see “POPS” aka Willie Stargell, driving a Scott McGregor changeup over the outstretched glove of Ken Singleton and over right field wall for a go ahead two-run home run in Game 7 of the World Series.
The blast gave the Pirates a 2-1 lead, a lead they would never relinquish en-route to winning the game 4-1 and the series 4-3. The O’s led the 79 Series three games to one before losing three straight to the Pirates. Eight years prior, the 101 win Orioles blew two games to none lead, as Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente led his team to a stunning seven game victory. In both cases, the Orioles lost Game 7 in Baltimore and in 1979; the Birds lost Game 6 at home as well.
It’s those types of loses that drive you nuts and Sister Sledge and “We Are Family” still make me throw up to this day. Speaking of being driven crazy, there are a ton of hockey fans in Baltimore that support the Washington Capitals, and their biggest rival is, yep, that’s right, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In fact, when Baltimore had an American Hockey League franchise (The NHL’s top minor league), they were affiliated with the Penguins from 1981-88 and then the Capitals the following five seasons. From Mario Lemieux to Sidney Crosby, the Penguins have owned the Capitals.
From 1991 to 2001, the Caps and Penguins met seven times in the postseason. Six times Pittsburgh prevailed, often in excruciating fashion. Twice the Penguins rallied from a 3-1 series deficit. Once the Caps won the first two games — in Pittsburgh, no less — before dropping four straight contests.
When Pittsburgh switched goaltenders, the maneuver saved the series. The opposite was true for the Caps: Six times Washington changed starting goalies against the Penguins in a playoff series, and five of those games resulted in losses.
Petr Nedved once scored in the fourth overtime to beat the Cap in D.C., a game in which the Penguins had lost their starting goalie and best player (Lemieux) early in the contest.
Heartbreaking fashion is what best describes the way the Pittsburgh-Baltimore rivalry can be summed up but if the last two trips to Heinz field and Monday night’s game between the Chiefs and Steelers are any indication, luck may be turning towards the purple and black.
There was a time when a Steelers win actually saved many lives in Baltimore. Led by Terry Bradshaw and the Steel Curtain, Pittsburgh had just defeated the upstart Baltimore Colts in the 1976 AFC divisional playoffs, 40-14. Thank goodness, it was not close. Shortly after the loss, Donald Kroner crashed his small plane into Sections 1 and 2 of the upper deck at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.
The game had just ended and because of the blow out, much of the stadium had cleared out. Kroner was arrested and charged, and spent three years in prison for his stunt.
Making this rivalry even more heated is the fact that many from Pittsburgh migrated to Baltimore during the industrial downturn. Looking on the web there are still six Steelers fan club bars in Maryland but that trend is changing. I live in Florida now and there are a ton of Ravens fans here and several Ravens fans clubs. One, which meets in Orlando, is almost 400 members strong.
Sunday's matchup is no different from any other Baltimore-Pittsburgh game. It is life or death for me, and many in Baltimore and Pittsburgh as well. Both cities will be glued to their sets and watching the Ravens roll to their thrid straight win over the "STILLERS". I will hopefully be cursing at Byron Leftwhich and not Big Ben and screaming at Joe Flacco for playing as if he is standing in mud. In the end, the Ravens will find a way to win. Hating Pittsburgh will not allow me to write anything else.