Hateful. Violent. Contentious.
Those words are often used to describe the intense rivalry between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, two AFC North teams from blue-collar towns that play a similar brand of smashmouth football.
The buildup is often as entertaining as the game itself. In the past, Shannon Sharpe, Hines Ward, Tony Siragusa and Joey Porter fired insults at opposing players and fans, showing absolutely no regard for what juicy quotes might end up on the opposing team’s locker room bulletin board.
As usual, there will be plenty at stake when the Steelers (8-3) and Ravens (8-3) clash tonight. The winner takes over first place in the division and will take an important step toward securing a first-round bye.
But the hype has been surprisingly, and to some unfortunately, tame.
Asked if he hated the Ravens, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger replied, “I don’t hate anybody. That’s a very harsh word.”
Pressed to explain the reason behind his 7-2 record as a starter against Baltimore, Roethlisberger offered: “I have no idea. Luck?”
Baltimore running back Ray Rice was asked whether the rivalry was based more on hate or respect. He began talking before the question was completed.
“I didn’t mean to cut you off, but I learned from my own leader on this team — and that’s Ray Lewis — the power of respect is to never disrespect,” Rice said. “That’s first and foremost about playing the Pittsburgh Steelers. We respect them. That’s what the rivalry has all been about.”
“Both sides know each other very well, and I think if you do get into all of that [talking] it’s because there’s a common respect from both sides,” Lewis said. “We respect them because we know what type of game they’re going to bring, and they respect us because they know what type of game we’re going to bring. So here we go again, one of those classic battles where everything is on the line.”
That doesn’t mean that the insults, and perhaps helmets, won’t start flying once the teams hit the field. The physical nature of both teams is one reason why this rivalry is so intriguing — it isn’t so much about long passes and big plays as it is about moving up the field one tough yard at a time.
“I’ve been a part of jawing and talking. I’ve never been a part of any illegal hits,” Rice said. “I talk with my pads. A little words back and forth is not going to hurt nobody. But I have not been a part of somebody trying to go low on the knee or bend me up at the end of a pile. No, I haven’t been a part of that, and I don’t really want to be a part of it.”