It’s been called the NFL’s best rivalry.
And yes, that holds true even this season. After all, the down-trodden and largely injured Ravens still claimed a victory over the Steelers on October 1, aided by the machinations of former Steelers “kicker” Josh Scobee. Had the Steelers won, they would have been in a far more tenable postseason position than they are today, as they have a number of possible playoff elimination scenarios to contend with that would have been rendered pointless. This actually makes this Sunday’s matchup slightly interesting, because, while unlikely, the Ravens could do serious damage to Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes if they somehow, miraculously, pull out another win.
To be clear, this writer believes otherwise. The Ravens are currently a collection of roster castoffs and practice-squad players from around the league. They’ve placed an NFL-high eight starters on injured reserve. They’re trying to decide which of their three backup quarterbacks is worthy of starting the rest of the season, let alone this game. They show little offensive or defensive cohesion, and display a startling lack of talent beyond their older, injured, and questionable starters. And they have many areas to address in the next few offseasons if they hope to reclaim any of their previous success.
In contrast, the Steelers have won five of their last six games while scoring 30 or more points in all of them, which is a franchise record. They boast the league’s best receiving trio, one of the league’s best quarterbacks, and a young-but-improving defense that has the luxury of not having to be perfect. They’re peaking at an opportune time, and appear poised to make a deep postseason run…should they get there. The odds of the Steelers losing this one are long indeed.
“Throw out the record books.” We’re sure to hear it repeated often this Sunday. Given the disparity between these teams currently, I’m not sure it needs to be said even once.
But, as we know, this game does funny things. And while most Steelers fans will boast of confidence in their team and an utter belief that a loss this Sunday is impossible, reality can dictate otherwise. Fans of this rivalry are keenly aware of this.
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The poor behavior of Giants’ wideout Odell Beckham Jr. last week has been panned in just about every sports publication in the country, and deservedly so, as Beckham’s actions demonstrated, at minimum, an utter lack of maturity and a narcissism that ventures beyond the accepted norm for wideouts, where much room to act out is routinely given. My personal take is that while Beckham was most definitely in the wrong, so was his coach, the officials, and the league for allowing this sideshow to go on beyond the first personal foul infraction. Beckham should have been a) benched, b) ejected, or c) had a better understanding of how his actions hurt his own team.
Reflecting on this reminded me of the many, many altercations that have occurred in the Steelers/Ravens rivalry over the years. Some were decidedly mild. Some were egregious and illustrated poor sportsmanship. And some were simply football players in full lather taking out their violent urges on one another.
It’s become apparent over the years that these guys just don’t like each other. Here’s a few historical gems:
- – October 27, 2002 – Ravens cornerback James Trapp jumps on Pittsburgh wideout Plaxico Burress with both cleats and rips off his helmet. Trapp and Burress both ejected.
- – September 19, 2004 – Steelers linebacker Joey Porter levels clearly-injured Ravens tight end Todd Heap at the line of scrimmage on a play whistled dead before the snap. Heap does not play the next three games with an injured ankle.
- – November 26, 2006 – Ravens linebacker Bart Scott tackles Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a borderline “clean” hit. Roethlisberger would later refer to it as the hardest hit he’d ever absorbed.
- – November 5, 2007 – Steelers wideout Hines Ward issues a blindside downfield block on Ravens safety Ed Reed. Reed spends the rest of the evening recovering in the locker room.
- – January 18, 2009 – Steelers safety Ryan Clark launches himself into Ravens running back Willis McGahee, knocking both men unconscious for several seconds. Remarkably, no penalties were issued.
- – November 2, 2014 – Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs hits the back of Steelers running back LeGarrette Blount’s legs; an area that typically results in ligament damage with contact. Suggs flagged and fined for the incident.
Wow. And that’s just a few of them. For roughly a six-year stretch, these contests were the most hotly-contested and brutal that the game has ever witnessed, and the participants, both current and past, cite these games as the most intense and hard-hitting that they experienced in their careers. While many of these signature moments belong to the history of the rivalry, the mutual dislike of these teams for each other lingers, and should provide enough theater to make even wretched-on-paper contests – like this Sunday’s – watchable.
Enjoy, folks. Oughtta be a good one.