There are a lot of great rivalries in sports. Yankees/Red Sox, Redskins/Cowboys, Packers/Bears, Celtics/Lakers.
But no rivalry comes close to the ferociousness, intensity, and downright hate that these two teams share. The Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers do not like each other. At all. The fans hate each other. The players hate each other. The coaches hate each other. Hell, even the ball boys hate each other. Its Ravens and Steelers, baby.
Its a relatively new rivalry. One that seemingly sprang out of nowhere. So there may be many fans outside of the Pittsburgh/Baltimore area that are wondering how did this all start. For starters, the Ravens didn’t even exist until 1996. That means in 16 years, this matchup went from non-existent to blood bath!
Before explaining the Ravens/Steelers rivalry, you have to understand what happened before the rivalry. Before the AFC North, there was the AFC Central. And in that division, the biggest rivalry was owned by the Steelers and the Browns. These teams did not like each other. The owner of the Cleveland Browns at the time, Art Modell, relocated the Browns to Baltimore effectively ending the rivalry between the two clubs. Or so we thought. The players from Cleveland moved to Baltimore during the relocation and thus the memories of the wars between the two ball clubs still existed. During the first encounter, many fans noticed the intensity of the two ball clubs and soon realized what had transpired. The Browns would return to the division in 1999, but that rivalry had faded. And a new one was about to begin.
A Familiar Face
When the Ravens first came to be in 1996 the rivalry between them and the Steelers wasn’t real. In all regards it was still Steelers/Browns. The only thing different were the Browns uniform and logo. The Ravens didn’t own the rivalry. Not to mention, they weren’t very good. But that all changed in 1998 when a future Hall of Famer by the name of Rod Woodson was released by the San Francisco 49ers. When Woodson was at his prime, he was a member of the PIttsburgh Steelers. One of the best cornerbacks to ever play the game. But the Steelers have a reputation for not keeping players after a certain amount of time, and therefore allowed Woodson to sign elsewhere. When the former Steeler was released, rumors spread that Woodson may be returning to his old stomping ground. All of that went away when Steelers director of football operations Tom Donahoe was quoted as saying, “We’re not the Salvation Army.” So instead, Woodson signed with the Ravens, where he switched from cornerback to safety and continued his stellar career.
The Ravens hired Brian Billick as their new head coach, and with the help of Woodson and Ray Lewis formed a defensive unit that resembled the Steel Curtain of the ’70s. During the span of dominance which included a Super Bowl title, many Steelers fans began to criticize the Ravens unit. Using Woodson, a former Steeler, they believed that the Ravens were trying to copy the formula used by the Steelers of old to become dominant in the AFC. The Steelers had been trying to mimick this formula for years and had been unsuccessful. It was the Ravens that now held the defense to be feared. The Ravens knew this and the Steelers knew this. The Ravens were confident, cocky, young, and brash. And they weren’t going to shy away from anyone. The Ravens had turned themselves from “the new kids on the block” to the “big bullies.” Pittsburgh wasn’t going to take it lying down.
The War of Words: “I’m the bigger bully!”
The match has been struck. The fire is lit. The rivalry is born. Now here comes the fun stuff.
Throwing fuel in the fire!
Over the next 10 years, a series of events accumulated into what is now being called the greatest rivalry in football. Some big…some not so big. But each event just as important as the next.
The first event transpired during the first game of the Ravens Super Bowl season. The Ravens gave the Steelers their first shutout at Three Rivers Stadium since 1989. Shannon Sharpe commented after the game:
“The Steelers have some real problems they need to have addressed. That’s probably the worst in my 11 years I’ve ever seen a Steelers team look. And I’m sure Bill cowher is very disappointed, because they’ve got a lot of internal turmoil.”
Apparently that didn’t sit well with Cowher because after their second game in which the Steelers beat the Ravens 9-6, Cowher commented:
“Can someone please tell Shannon Sharpe that our problems here are fine? And I appreciate his concern after the first game about all the internal problems that we had. Tell him we’re fine. Thanks!”
Currently the two men work together on the “NFL on CBS.”
2001 has been dubbed by many as the year it all started. The year all the ill will between the two spilled over. It was a season of epic proportions. The Ravens had just won Superbowl XXXV and many pundits were dubbing them the best defense of all time. Allowing the least amount of points in a season, the Ravens were all the rave. The bad boys of the NFL. The bullies of the AFC Central. The Steelers didn’t like it. The fans didn’t like the thought of any defense being better than the 70s Steel Curtain, especially not their bitter rivals. The Steelers players thought of it as a sign of disrespect.
The first game between the rivals that season was suppose to show the world that the Steelers were the better team. But the Ravens defeated the Steelers 13-10. Joey Porter proclaimed after the game: “They won the game, but they definitely know how good our defense is.”
The rematch between the two teams would be huge. Deciding the AFC Central title. ESPN would cover the game on Sunday Night Football and would have no shortage of sound bites to work with.
Plaxico Burress stated that the Steelers had “physically beat” the Ravens even though they had lost. Shannon Sharpe replied: “If Hines Ward would have said that, as physical as he plays the game, OK, I could lend some credence to that. But ‘Plexiglass?” No!”
One of the bigger media altercations occured by a seemingly harmless article in which Jerome Bettis stated that Takeo Spikes, Bengals linebacker at the time, was better than Ray Lewis. In which Lewis responded, “Jerome saying Takeo Spikes is better than me? Lets go find out. They have to come here in three or four days regardless of what’s coming out of their mouths. Tell him to tape that groin up and come meet me at PSINet!” (PSINet stadium was the former name of M&T Bank Stadium)
Lewis would continue his rant days later: “I’ve always said you don’t have to respect me, but don’t ever disrespect me. For those guys to say what they’re saying now, it’s ignorant. They have a good defense this year, i’m not going to even say great. But we’ve been there. We’ve done this before. There’s no person on this team, first team or second team, that I would trade for any of their starters.”
Porter of the Steelers would later reply: “Good, cause we wouldn’t take none of their guys neither!”
A rumor was spread during the week as well of a possible bounty being placed on Burress as well as Ward. Hines Ward gave a vicious hit to Rod Woodson during the first contest that bloodied his nose. The bounty was never confirmed by anyone.
Also, before the game, Tony Siragusa dared fans to follow him into the bathroom after the game in which DB Lee Flowers replied: “We don’t have no wimpy fans. Make sure his big butt shows up on the field Sunday.”
The Steelers would go on to win the game and clinch the AFC Central title. But it would not be the last time the teams would face each other. In the divisional round no less, these two teams would square off one more time.
Jamie Sharper had a warning for Jerome Bettis, who was battlilng an injury before the game. “Everybody said they’re team is the best…we’ll see. If the bus was smart, he wouldn’t play.” As it turns out, to many people’s surprise, Bettis did not play. But he wouldn’t have to as the Steelers would go on to win the game but fall short of the AFC title when playing the Patriots.
The years to come are basically consequences of the actions displayed during the year of 2001. Many events are easily remembered, some not so.
In 2002, Plaxico Burress and James Trapp were ejected from the game for fighting each other.
In 2003, Porter was shot in a random shooting spree in denver. Ray Lewis was believed to have mocked Porter during the game in reference to the shooting. Porter was believed to have went inside the Ravens bus to confront Lewis about the event. Some say Porter asked Lewis to come outside so the two could fight.
Also in 2003, the Ravens hosted the Steelers in a season finale in which the Steelers were already out of playoff contention and the Ravens had clinched a playoff spot. The Ravens kept their starters and successfully defeated the Steelers as well as got Jamal Lewis over the 2,000 yard mark for the season.
In 2004, the Ravens were the only team to beat the Steelers (15-1). Joey Porter also pushed Todd Heap on a play in which Heap was clearly hurt. The play was a victory formation to end the half.
From 2004-2005, the Ravens knocked out three starting quarterbacks for the Steelers.
In 2006, the Ravens destroyed the Steelers by a combined score of 58-7. Roethlisberger was sacked 14 times including the memorable Bart Scott sack that literally knocked the wind out of him.
In 2007, the Steelers got their revenge on Monday Night Football during their 75 year anniversary. The Steelers defeated them 38-7, and included a vicious hit by Hines Ward to Ed Reed that forced Ward to call for the medics to come aid him.
In 2008, rookie Rashard Mendenhall sent a text to Ray Rice predicting a big game. Ray Lewis knocked him out of the game with a fractured shoulder. He only gained 30 yards. The Ravens would lose the game however to the Steelers in overtime. A few weeks later, Terrell Suggs let a sports radio station know that there was a bounty on Mendenhall. And that there would be a bounty on Ward for the next game. The Ravens would lose that game to the Steelers in controversial fashion. Santonio Holmes caught a pass that would appear to be inches away from the goal line. It was however ruled a touchdown. That season, the Ravens and Steelers met in the AFC Championship game where the Steelers defeated the Ravens in route to a Super Bowl title.
In 2010, the Ravens would meet in the divsional round of the playoffs after a split series in the regular season. Baltimore would go up ahead 21-7 at the end of the half. But Pittsburgh would capitalize on mistakes made by the Ravens and made a thrilling comeback to defeat the Ravens for a chance to play the Jets in the AFC Championship. The Steelers would make it all the way to the Super Bowl before falling to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
During the lockout, Steelers began the war of words for the upcoming season. Steelers LB Lamarr Woodley stated that Joe Flacco would never win a Super Bowl “In this lifetime.” Flacco would later respond. [Woodley] obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about. At some level I don’t care [what Woodley says] because what does that really mean? But there is another level where it does kinda piss you off a little.”
In July of 2011, Steelers WR Hines Ward would be arrested on a DUI charge. Ray Rice would post on Twitter, “Well it looks like Hines Ward will miss week 1 when the lockout ends DUI charge not a good look.” Steelers safety Ryan Clark would respond to the tweet by saying “So glad you could weigh in. Thx.” Rice would later respond: “its whatever you wanna do bro, you know how to find me.” In which Clark replied, “I hear your brother. Thought we were all better than that. Wouldn’t speak negative of you. I’ll find you! It’s not hard. God Bless!”
A few days later, Clark would make another comment directed at the rivalry itself. “People try to make this game between the Steelers and the Ravens as so much of a rivalry, a fight, Clark stated on a Pittsburgh radio show. “You can say its a rivalry if you like, but I really feel that for a game to be a rivalry, it doesn’t have to just be physical. I think for something to be a rivalry, I think both teams have to win equally.” Steelers lead the series over the Ravens 21-12 including the playoffs.
All of these events lead us to Sunday. The rivalry has intensified. The two teams hate each other with a passion. But with that hate, a level of respect between the two exist. Through all of the trash talk and cheap shots lay a level of sportsmanship that can only be found in a rivalry as heated as this. The Steelers thrive to be better because they don’t want the Ravens to beat them and vice-versa. That is why records rarely matter when it comes to these two teams. The only thing that matters is who is left standing when the smoke clears and the dust settles. Whether Ryan Clark wants to admit it or not, this is the biggest rivalry in the NFL.
What is your favorite Steelers/Ravens moment? Anything missed in the article? Comment below and subscribe. Also follow me on twitter @Ravens_Examiner. And as always, thanks for reading!
David Ginsburg, AP, “Ray Lewis irked by comparison to Takeo Spikes,” Dec. 13, 2001
Mark Curnette, Cincinnati Enquirer, “Stars’ war of words,” Dec. 20, 2001