Ravens paddle upstream against Three Rivers hex

October 18, 1998|By KEN ROSENTHAL

PITTSBURGH -- Napoleon had Waterloo. The Ravens have Three Rivers.

Custer had Little Big Horn. The Ravens have Three Rivers.

"When you are going to play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium, you know you are going into a war zone," Ravens assistant coach Earnest Byner said.

"You have thousands of fans, plus the team you're playing -- it's like taking a walk on land mines."

Watch your step, Lieutenant Zeier! Tread lightly, Sergeant Holmes!

Ah, but enough war imagery.

The Ravens at Three Rivers are Susan Lucci at the Emmys. They're Bob Dole running for president. They're the Washington Generals vs. the Harlem Globetrotters.

Born to lose.

The last time Team Modell won at Pittsburgh was Sept. 10, 1989. The score was 51-0. Ozzie Newsome was still playing for the Browns. Chuck Noll was still coaching the Steelers.

"It's just something you can't get used to," Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett said. "It leaves a bad taste in your mouth -- the worst taste, every time it happens."

Burnett is the only Raven who has been part of the franchise's nine straight defeats at Three Rivers, including a 29-9 loss in the 1994 playoffs. The combined score of those games is 225-68. In the Steelers-Ravens series, it's 68-17.

Will this be the day it all changes?

Well, the Steelers are expected to be without Jerome Bettis. But if they can't take "The Bus," they'll take Air Kordell. Or the Richard Huntley Express. Or something.

The Steelers (3-2) have won only once since Sept. 13. You could say that the Ravens (2-3) are catching them at a perfect time. Or you could say that the Steelers will be delighted to see their favorite whipping boys walking through the front door.

"We'll just go play," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said. "A lot of these kids don't know what has happened since '89. Some of 'em have just been here a year or two. We know it's going to be a tough game. We have to play like we did in the opener."

Not exactly -- the Ravens lost, 20-13, making blunder after blunder in a Three Rivers-style performance that sullied opening day at the new NFL stadium at Camden Yards.

Today, they return to the place where they suffered a 37-0 embarrassment on ESPN last season, the place where they've yet to score more than 17 points in the '90s.

"All I want to do is win a game in Pittsburgh," said left guard Wally Williams. "I haven't played in all the stadiums yet, but I'm sure nothing would compare. That's something I would put down as an accomplishment in my career."

Only seven players remain from the '94 Browns team that lost at Three Rivers in both the regular season and playoffs (Rod Woodson and Eric Green were with the Steelers then).

Still, Michael Jackson, Brian Kinchen and Matt Stover are 0-8 in Pittsburgh. Stevon Moore is 0-7, Wally Williams 0-6, Bennie Thompson 0-5.

"They've established a home-field advantage that has an aura about it, even more so with us because of the way we can't overcome it," said Kinchen, who will replace the injured Green at tight end.

"The crowd is so loud, I can't hear the snap count. It's hard to hear checkoffs. Little things like that make it more difficult to execute. As long as I can find out what I'm supposed to do, I'm all right. But that's the hard part.

"The turf they used to have up there was awful. It's better now, but you're in Pittsburgh, just a dead-nothing town. You want to get out as soon as you show up."

Burnett, in particular, has spoken passionately about the need to get out today with a victory, saying it's one of those things that he wants to accomplish before he dies.

"Certain games stick out," Burnett said. "The worst feeling? It was a combination of last year and the playoff game in '94. Those two were probably the most disheartening losses I've faced out there."

What does he remember about the playoff game?

"Three hours of Bam Morris' dirty underwear," Burnett said. "That's exactly what it was. It was Bam's opening year. He was running downhill. They had Barry Foster, too."

Most of the other veterans cite last year's defeat as the low point. The Ravens committed seven turnovers. The Steelers' average starting field position was their own 47-yard-line.

"That was terrible, just terrible," Thompson said. "We really stunk up the place. I don't think it can get any worse than that."

The loss dropped the Ravens to 4-6 on their way to 6-9-1.

"It was beginning of the end as far as I was concerned," Williams said. "You go in there, you want to put your best foot forward on national TV, and you go out and accomplish nothing.

"It seems like the second loss to the Steelers is always the beginning of the end. We don't want to be in that situation again."

It could happen, if they lose again today. A loss would drop the Ravens to 2-4, with their next two games at Green Bay and home against Jacksonville.

They're 0-for-the-'90s at Three Rivers.

They're obsessed with the Steelers.

"The sad thing is, I've hated 'em since I was a kid," said Kinchen, who grew up a Dolphins fan in Baton Rouge, La. "The more you desire to beat them, the more frustrated you are when you can't. My hatred just grows."

Pub Date: 10/18/98

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