Baltimore-Pittsburgh Rivalry is More Than Just Ravens-Steelers

Baltimore Ravens Pittsburgh Steelers

I could sit here and write an article about what the Baltimore Ravens need to do today to win their fourth straight game at Heinz Field against their most hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. I could point out that the Ravens need to get their 27th ranked rushing attack on track, protect their Super Bowl MVP QB against the blitzing defense of the ageless coordinator Dick Lebeau, and of course— do not turn the ball over on the road.

I could also tell you that the Ravens need to prevent Steelers QB, Ben Roethlisberger from beating them outside the pocket. Big Ben is 9-4 vs. the Ravens (incl. playoffs) and did not play in the series last season, as he recovered from a rib injury. He never seems to beat the Ravens standing behind his line, if you know what I mean.

I could tell you all of this but none of it matters—absolutely none of it. The Ravens and the Steelers will not be able to run the ball and it is likely that the QB with the ball in his hand last will win the game. That is almost a certainty.

When Baltimore and Pittsburgh battle, it’s likely to be a close game. Dating back to 2008, when John Harbaugh became head coach, the Ravens and Steelers have each won five regular season series games. Incredibly, 3 points, including seven of the last eight games, have decided eight of the last 10 contests between these teams. Three points have decided all the last five regular season games played in Pittsburgh, with the Ravens outscoring the Steelers 93-90. Finally, the Ravens have won three-straight games at Heinz Field, all by a 3-point margin.

ESPN’s Mike Golic said Friday on his radio show, Mike & Mike in the Morning, that this is probably the best rivalry in sports because it’s a rivalry played on the field—meaning the players have a genuine dislike at times for one another and it’s not just all about the fans. Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger echoed those sentiments as call in guests. However, in my humble opinion—what makes this rivalry so special is the fact that teams, cities and fan bases are so much alike, it’s almost scary. The hatred and yes it is a fair word in a respectful sense when talking football, is genuine.

It is the most physical rivalry in the NFL with both teams’ defenses leading the way, especially since John Harbaugh arrived in 2008. Since the 08 season, the Steelers and Ravens are first and third respectively in total yards allowed during that span, they are one and two in fewest points allowed, as well.

If you think this rivalry loses a little bit of explosiveness today because the Steelers are 1-4 and the Ravens are a struggling 3-3, you are wrong. If you think, the rivalry will weaken because No.52 and No.20 are no longer lining up across the line of scrimmage looking to break Ben Roethlisberger—–you would once again be wrong.

The rivalry will always exist even with players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed now gone. It will exist when Big Ben and Joe Flacco retire. It did before their arrival and will remain long after every player that takes the field today is collecting an NFL pension. Despite the similarities in the cities and their fans, there is a genuine respected hatred between both the players and the fans. Please do not leave comments saying you do not understand how hate is involved. Please do not tell me it is just sports. If you are a true sports fan from either city, then you get where this column is going.

Have you ever heard the expression, we are too much alike, and that is why we do not get along? Well, truer words have never been spoken when it comes to the Ravens, Steelers and the great fans of each team and both cities.

Whether you admit it or not, and despite the respected hatred, the cities of Baltimore and Pittsburgh are very much alike, and so are the people. Both cities sit on the water, rose to economic prominence through the industrial age and almost died with its decline. Each utilized the waterfront to revitalize the downtown areas, and added tourism as a measure of replacement for the loss of industrial income.

Both cities even have distinct ways of speaking with hard dialects about their teams.

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.” And Pittsburgheese is alive and well and “Yins see the Stiller’s lose to Baldeemore,” or “Dwana go dahn da karner bahr and ketch da BucOs game”, are very popular in the Steele city.

To match that dialect, each city has its very own fancy beer, and even though both are no longer brewed there, 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.

In old Memorial Stadium, Natty Boh signs could be seen everywhere throughout the park, and for a period, appeared as the main advertisement on the big scoreboard in centerfield.

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. Both beers, if consumed in large quantities, will make you wish you did not the next day.

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.

While all this makes these cities very much alike, what sets them apart and creates the dislike are the sports. The fact that Pittsburgh sports teams are responsible for preventing or eliminating the Colts, Ravens, Orioles, and Washington Capitals (Baltimore hockey fans follow the Capitals for the most part) a combined 15 times from their sports post season, drives me to hatred. A respectful hatred, but make no mistake, it is a pure red-blooded hatred for all things black and yellow.

I know the sports history of Pittsburgh, as I know mine. I remember worrying about my father, who was there when the Baltimore Colts took a beating in one of two playoffs games in the mid 1970’s, while a small airplane crashed in the upper deck of Memorial Stadium at the end of one of them.

For the fans of those seats, it was probably a good thing that Terry Bradshaw and company were thumping Bert Jones and the Colts. Otherwise, those seats may have been filled with fans, causing many people to be killed.

Thank God, I was not there when the great Roberto Clemente led the Pirates back from a 2-0 deficit to beat my Baltimore Orioles in seven games during the 1971 World Series.

However, I was in attendance for all four games at Memorial Stadium when the Pirates defeated my O’s again in seven games, this time, coming back from a three games to one deficit, to win the 1979 Fall Classic.

I remember as if it was yesterday when Pops, aka, Willie Stargell, took a Scott McGregor pitch just barely over the right field wall in Game 7 to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead. For the record, Sister Sledge and their hit, “We Are Family,” does not make me want to get up and dance.

Speaking of being down three games to one, and another reason the Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry is so deep, is the involvement of hockey. I was there on more than one occasion when Mario Lemieux and his Pittsburgh Penguins completed numerous comebacks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to eliminate my Washington Capitals. Now there is the whole Sid the Kid vs. Ovie thing.

Most sports fans in Charm City are huge hockey fans, and many support the Capitals. 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.

Let’s not kid ourselves here; football is the fuel that feeds this rivalry between the two cities as both Pittsburgh and Baltimore have a storied and historic football past, both well documented. The Steelers of the 70’s and The Baltimore Colts of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s have contributed numerous Hall of Fame players. Both organizations had a big hand in making the NFL what it has become today.

The Charm city will always be grateful to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. If they did not cut a certain quarterback, who knows how history would have played out at that position in Baltimore during the late 1950’s, 60’s and very early 70’s– As the story goes, in the ninth round of the 1955 NFL Draft, the Steelers drafted some lanky signal caller from Louisville named Johnny Unitas.

As the odd man out among four quarterbacks trying to fill three spots, Unitas was released before the season began. Steelers Head Coach Walt Kiesling did not think Johnny U was smart enough to quarterback an NFL team. And the rest is well-documented great Baltimore Hall of Fame Football history. By the way from 1955 until Unitas left Baltimore in 1972, the Steelers made the playoffs just once (1972) and finished above .500 just five times. All Unitas did was become known, as one of the greatest field generals in the history of the game, winning two World Championships (58 & 59) and one Super Bowl (1970).

Ironically, the year after Unitas departed for one last season in San Diego, the Steelers won the Super Bowl. In fact, they have won and NFL record six Lombardi Trophies and made the postseason 25 times in 41 years. Along with the Patriots and maybe one or two other franchises, the Ravens and the Steelers are model NFL organizations. They stick to a philosophy and do not deviate. Sometimes and as fans from both teams are experiencing at its fullest this season, to a fault.

Today’s version of the Steelers and Ravens are almost identical in their build. Both believe in front office stability and possess solid ownership. The Ravens are on their third coach in franchise history, and the Steelers are on just their third coach in 30 plus years. Both were built on stout defenses that featured All-Pro linebackers and all-world safeties. Both have a quarterback that came from a small college, both are similar in size and build, and have played much better than fans thought they would the day they were drafted.

Both teams have tried during the past few seasons to add a little finesse to their offense and become more of what the NFL is today—a pass happy sexy game, void of hard hitting and the rushing attack. But if you look at the teams this year, they are failing more than succeeding because they cannot execute the aspects of the game plan that made each team what it has become. Do not kid yourself, yes Joe Flacco was great in the playoffs but the Ravens defense got healthy and played Ravens football in January to get to February last season.

This year is a different story. Pittsburgh recorded their first turnover of the season last week vs. the Jets and the Ravens are averaging 2.7 yards per carry this season. Uncharacteristic of both teams.

Even the players from both teams, who come from different parts of the country, are not bashful when it comes to the rivalry. While both teams have a ton of respect for one another, they are also quick to do a little trash talking. Remember when Steelers safety Ryan Clark said the Ravens would never win a Super Bowl with Joe Flacco playing quarterback? I do and you had better believe Clark does.

Growing up in “Bawlmer” I know what a rivalry is all about, and for me it is anything involving Pittsburgh. 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.

Today’s matchup with the Steelers is no different from any other. It is life or death for me, and many in Baltimore and Pittsburgh as well. I live in Florida now, and see the black and gold everywhere. I guess six Super Bowls tend to attract a few “extra fans on the wagon”.  It is a strange thing this rivalry, Baltimore & Pittsburgh— I was actually pulling for the Pirates this year when they made the playoffs for the first time since 1992 and many Pirates fans did the same last year when the Orioles did it and it is tough to truly “hate” a guy like Troy Polamalu. I never miss a Mike Tomlin Press conference but you can have Sidney Crosby.

The good news is that the team that wins gets bragging rights and the team that loses does not have to wait long for redemption. The Ravens and Steelers will play in a few short weeks on Thanksgiving night in Baltimore. The Ravens have won 13 of their last 15 games against AFC North foes—want to take a guess at which team has those two victories?

For the record, the last time the Ravens won the Super Bowl, the Steelers beat them twice the following season, including the playoffs. It is not just what happens on the field today that creates this rivalry, the players are a big part of it but the cities and the fans wearing purple and yellow are what truly keeps it going. In this rivalry, the players must simply do their part, which is to play hard-nosed blue-collar football—just like the cities.

Speaking of being similar, did you happen to catch my last name? Know any Polish people in Pittsburgh?

For Matt Pearce’s latest injury article on today’s game, please click here

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