No contest: payback 1st, Steelers 2nd

September 08, 1996|By John Eisenberg

PITTSBURGH -- Ravens fans voted with their throats when the scores of other NFL games were announced last Sunday at Memorial Stadium.

The Redskins were Public Enemy No. 1, their loss to the Eagles cheered as though it meant a round on the house.

The Colts were Public Enemy No. 1-A, the very mention of their name drawing cascades of boos.

The Steelers?

A distant third, at best.

And all of them would have dropped in the rankings if the PA announcer had seen fit to mention the boss man of Baltimore's football villains, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

A day after the game, a member of the Ravens' front office was grumbling about the fans' priorities.

"We have to make them understand that the Steelers are the big rivals now," he said.

Maybe one day, but not yet.

H

As much as the Ravens' players and management still feel

the heat of the Browns-Steelers rivalry, one of the NFL's best for years, Baltimore's born-again football zealotry has other priorities.

Payback city.

Revenge for a dozen years without an NFL team.

Redskins, Colts, Tagliabue, Irsay, Cooke -- the symbols of those 12 years of darkness incite passions right now.

Why do you think the fans were more fired up about Bob Trumpy than the Raiders last week?

The Raiders were just business; Trumpy was personal.

The same thing goes for the Ravens' first meeting with the Steelers today at Three Rivers Stadium.

The Steelers are an AFC Central rival and competition for the playoffs and all that, but how can they compare with a game against the team that sneaked out of town in the middle of the night?

How can they compare with the memory of a smug commissioner suggesting that we build a museum instead of a football stadium?

"There's still a lot of bitterness and hurt," said Butch Ergott, a graphics artist from Reisterstown and president of a chapter of the Ravens Roost fan club.

Which game is Ergott most anticipating this year? What is the biggest game of 1996 in Baltimore? Need we even say it?

"The game against the Colts up there [in Indianapolis on Oct. 13]," Ergott said. "I'm taking one of the bus tours to that. I wouldn't miss it."

Not that he and the rest of the Ravens' fans won't root hard against the Steelers today, just as they did when the Colts played the Steelers years ago.

"The Steelers were our bitter rivals back then," Ergott said. "The towns are a lot alike. The fans are a lot alike. A lot of our fans would go up there, and a lot of their fans would come down here."

Steelers fans are angry now because the Ravens wrecked the down-and-dirty Browns-Steelers rivalry by moving, but Baltimore and Pittsburgh are natural rivals with some history between them, not to mention a couple of World Series.

With two games a year against each other, the Ravens and Steelers are bound to build up plenty of heat.

But it will never match the intensity of the Browns-Steelers rivalry, especially when Cleveland rejoins the league (by 1999) and the Steelers can start getting hot about the Browns again.

In Baltimore, Ravens-Colts always will stir more anger than Ravens-Steelers.

L And Ravens-Redskins might stir more anger than Ravens-Colts.

"You always rooted against the Redskins when the Colts were here," Ergott said, "but it's gone to a new level because of what Mr. Cooke did during the expansion thing. The league tried to turn two cities into one market. That's not even close to the truth."

Regardless of what really happened behind closed doors in 1993, Baltimore fans always will believe that Tagliabue and Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke led a drive to block expansion to Baltimore.

If Ravens fans ruled the football world, their team would get to play a "dream" game against the owners and league office.

Vinny and Ted against the suits: the ultimate payback!

Imagine Jonathan Ogden driving Bill Bidwill into the ground on a draw.

Or Eric Turner pancaking quarterback Tagliabue on a safety blitz.

Scalpers would get $1,000 a ticket.

In the real world, fans will have to settle for games against Jacksonville and Charlotte, the winners of the expansion derby.

We couldn't beat their financing schemes, so we'll have to beat them on the field.

There also will be games against the Cardinals, Rams, Bengals and various other teams that used Baltimore as leverage to improve their own lots.

The Steelers don't have a chance against that.

OK, maybe that isn't quite true; the Steelers' game at Memorial Stadium is the only one of the Ravens' remaining seven home games that is already sold out, so obviously the Baltimore fans are fired up.

"I think, in the long run, a Steelers game could be like when we play the Redskins," said Jim Phillips, president of the Ravens Roost. "The Steelers will be big rivals."

The Ravens' publicity office is trying to help; this week, it circulated a Top 10 list of reasons why Ravens fans should dislike the Steelers.

The No. 1 reason was that the Steelers cut Johnny Unitas.

Not bad.

But just as the Browns and Steelers were natural rivals on geographic grounds, the Ravens' fans will sustain rivalries on the grounds of, well, years of abuse.

"When the Colts come here to play," Phillips said, "it will be unbelievable."

And the Redskins? Team Raljon at Camden Yards?

"Can't wait," he said.

Who can?

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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