Bitter foes to air dirty laundry

As nation tunes in, Ravens seek last word in Tennessee feud

`Definitely bad blood there'

Last 2 Adelphia wins, champs' Monday debut add to grudge match


NFL Week 9

November 12, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Ravens' Monday Night Football debut will mark the final act of their fiercest divisional rivalry.

After the likely Dennis Miller rant about how he hasn't encountered so much bad blood since the Hatfields and McCoys, the Ravens (5-3) will rumble with the Tennessee Titans (3-4) at 9 tonight, likely for the last time as AFC Central foes. Next year's league-wide realignment will split up this bitter feud, which has been spiced by images of two-by-fours, banshees, spears and a stadium foreclosure.

A third straight win at Adelphia Coliseum would keep the Ravens within a half game of the division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers. But besides staying within reach of first place, the Ravens want the last word in what has become one of the league's most-heated grudge matches.

"You have to raise the bar," Ravens defensive tackle Sam Adams said. "Everyone likes to say that they play the same way every week and it doesn't matter who it is. That's not true. When you play against someone you don't like, you make a conscious effort to not necessarily get embarrassed but to make sure you leave it all out there on the field."

This sentiment is far from one-sided.

"There's definitely some unfinished business and some bad blood," said Titans defensive end Kevin Carter, who has gained a perspective of this series after just one game against the Ravens. "There's definitely something there. Coming here and everyone was talking about things going on from last season. In light of what happened, that makes for some bad blood."

The most recent addition to this rivalry occurred five weeks ago, when Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher told his team: "Even if we lose, just bring your two-by-fours to lay some wood into the Ravens."

That message got back to the Ravens and became the chief motivation in a 26-7 defeat of the Titans Oct. 7. After the game, Fisher's post-game handshake with Ravens coach Brian Billick turned into a drive-by slap, barely connecting with Billick's hand at midfield before Fisher left without a word exchanged.

"This is not a personal thing," Fisher said last week. "Any time you line up against anybody and lose two or three consecutive games or even a playoff game, there's a level of frustration."

When asked how his relationship with Fisher compares to the other coaches in the league, Billick paused to grin and said, "Probably not as close."

The Ravens understand the deal.

"Honestly, what they need to do is go ahead and have them go out to the 50 of Adelphia and just slug it out," Ravens receiver Qadry Ismail said. "This is kind of typical. So goes the head guy, so goes the team. If he does not like the other guy, then you're going to feel passion and not like the other players. It's all in extreme competitive fun."

But the players are not innocent bystanders.

Last year, Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister made headlines when he boasted that linebacker Ray Lewis delivered a hit that made Titans running back Eddie George "curl up like a baby."

And during the final minute of last season's playoff win at Tennessee, Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe turned to the Titans fans and yelled, "Maybe we should charge the Titans rent to keep playing in our house. Better yet, maybe we should just foreclose on it."

Even Tennessee's scoreboard operator got into the act only a minute before the opening kickoff for that playoff game. Attempting to fire up the Adelphia crowd, the Titans showed taped footage of Billick boasting in the locker room after the Ravens' previous victory at Tennessee.

That led to the Billick line: "When you go into the lion's den, you don't tippy-toe in. You carry a spear. You go in screaming like a banshee and say, `Where's the son of a bitch?' "

So, what does Billick think the Titans will have on the video screen this time?

"I have no idea," Billick said. "I kind of enjoyed it. So, we'll see what they come up with."

Serving as a backdrop to the hype are two quarterbacks at two different ends of the recovery trail.

Last week in a 28-24 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Titans' Steve McNair showed he has fully healed from a shoulder injury by throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more. Unlike the previous meeting with the Ravens, McNair ran on designed draws and bootlegs, producing 74 yards rushing on 10 carries.

Meanwhile, the Ravens' Elvis Grbac is trying to prove he has recovered after missing the past two weeks with bruised ribs. Although backup Randall Cunningham went 2-0 as the starter, Grbac said he isn't feeling added pressure.

"I think the guys understand who the quarterback is and what we're going to do for the rest of the season," Grbac said. "It's just time to go play now. Are there any doubts? It's going to come up and you guys [reporters] are going to bring that up. If something goes wrong on Monday night in the first half, you guys are going to say, `Let's put Randall in.' But this team isn't going to say that."

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