The Ravens franchise, of course, used to be the Cleveland Browns before Art Modell made his unpopular move and hoodwinked the city of Cleveland in 1996. Hence, in spirit, the Steelers-Ravens rivalry has spanned over 60 years with the first meeting having occurred on October 7, 1950.
The history books, though, say that the rivalry began on September 8, 1996 at Pittsburgh’s old Three Rivers Stadium with the Steelers winning 31–17. Pittsburgh currently leads the series 20-12.
There is such hatred between the teams that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote in 2006:
“The coaches hate each other, the players hate each other,” Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said, almost gleefully.
“There’s no calling each other after the game and inviting each other out to dinner. But the feeling’s mutual: They don’t like us, and we don’t like them. There’s no need to hide it, they know it, and we know it. It’s going to be one of those black and blue games.”
Ward said Baltimore is the only team in the NFL he hates. Not even Cincinnati evokes such a strong emotion. “No, I like those guys,” Ward said.
Within the fierce rivalry, there have been instances of:
-game ejections in 2002 (former Ravens cornerback James Trapp and former Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress got physical after Trapp jumped on Burress’s body with both feet)
-threats to “kill” Ward in 2007 (former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott threatened to “kill” Ward after Ward laid out nasty blocks on Scott and safety Ed Reed)
-spitting in 2008 (former Ravens backup cornerback Frank Walker spit on former Steelers punter Mitch Berger)
-bounties on Ward and running back Rashard Mendenhall in 2008 (Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs admitted on radio that bounties existed on Ward and Mendenhall)
When the Steelers and Ravens play, you know exactly what you’re getting. Wrote ESPN.com’s Greg Garber:
“Every block, every tackle — none of them are done casually,” said Steelers radio broadcaster Tunch Ilkin, who played in Pittsburgh from 1980 to 1992. “They’re all done with full intensity and malicious intent. If you have a chance to rub a guy’s face in the dirt on a tackle, you do. If you can put a knee in a guy’s back to help yourself get up, you do it.
“Not to sound like a football snob, but if you’re a purist, you love this. You can’t wait for this game.”
Kevin Byrne, the Ravens’ senior vice president of public and community relations, has been with the franchise for 28 years, all the way back to when it was based in Cleveland.
“These games have been played by two teams who have the same belief: If you are more physical than the guys on the other side, you will win,” Byrne said. “The meek may inherit the earth, but it won’t be a Raven or a Steeler.
“I’ve been on the sidelines late in games. It’s thunderous. You’re not even on the field and your adrenaline gets going because of the intensity.”
For the third time in 15 seasons, Pittsburgh and Baltimore will meet in a playoff game. The last time this happened was merely two years ago. That season, the Steelers edged the Ravens 23-20 in overtime, then swept the regular season series with a 13-9 victory, and finally defeated the Ravens 23-14 in the AFC Championship game en route to a Super Bowl victory.
Most people might prefer potent scoring matchups to defensive struggles, but I’m from the school of thought that defense wins games. I look forward to a 3-0 game where hard hits, chippiness, emotion, and physicality dominate.
In case you’re doubtful about defense winning games, look at this list of highest scoring offenses in the regular season:
1. New England – 32.4 PPG
2. San Diego – 27.6 PPG
3. Philadelphia – 27.4 PPG
4. Indianapolis – 27.2 PPG
5. Atlanta – 25.9 PPG
6. Oakland – 25.6 PPG
7. Dallas – 24.6 PPG
8. New York Giants – 24.6 PPG
Of the above teams, only the Patriots and Falcons are still in the playoffs. The high-powered, explosive offenses of the Eagles and Colts watched helplessly as their defenses failed to stop their opponents time after time this past weekend.
In comparison, look at the list of best defenses in terms of points allowed:
1. Pittsburgh – 14.5 PPG
2. Green Bay – 15.0 PPG
3. Baltimore – 16.9 PPG
4. Chicago – 17.9 PPG
5. Atlanta – 18.0 PPG
6. New York Jets – 19.0 PPG
7. New Orleans – 19.2 PPG
8. New England – 19.6 PPG
The Patriots and Falcons, regardless of their offensive prowess, have gotten it done on the defensive side. In addition, it’s not a coincidence that the top eight defenses all made the playoffs and that seven out of eight teams are still fighting for a trip to the Super Bowl. Defense wins games.
So when the No. 1 and No. 3 defenses play on Saturday, only the outcome should be a mystery. Everything else imaginable has already become standard in this fierce rivalry.