Foes never pull punches in Ravens-Steelers rivalry

Despite disparity in records, AFC North teams set to bring heat

November 26, 2006|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun Reporter

From James Trapp stomping on Plaxico Burress' stomach in 2002 to Joey Porter shoving an injured Todd Heap to the ground in 2004, the bitter rivalry between the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers has led to some memorable shots.

When the feud is renewed today at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens could deliver the ultimate hit - a season-ending blow.

Another loss essentially would eliminate the Steelers (4-6) from the NFL playoffs, a belief widely shared by coach Bill Cowher and his players.

"That's for them to focus on if they choose to," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It makes no difference to us. We're being greedy here. It's all about what it does for us."

There's a reason the Ravens (8-2) aren't concerned about what this game means to the defending Super Bowl champions. They have their own title aspirations for motivation.

If they beat the Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals over the next five days, the Ravens will virtually wrap up their first division title since 2003.

"We want to finish that in the next two weeks; we don't want to wait," quarterback Steve McNair said. "That's why we have to stay focused and stay mentally prepared during the course of the week to match their intensity."

A lack of intensity has never been a problem in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry.

In 2002, Trapp ripped off Burress' Steelers helmet and then hopped cleats-first onto his abdomen. A fight ensued, and both players were ejected from the game.

In 2003, emotions ran high outside the Ravens' team buses in Pittsburgh, where Porter exchanged words with linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Corey Fuller. The altercation was broken up and none of the players got closer than 50 feet.

In 2004, Porter pushed Heap to the ground at the beginning of a play, after the tight end had just limped to the line of scrimmage with a sprained ankle. The Ravens weren't even running a play, immediately spiking the ball once it was snapped.

"There's no love lost," Heap said. "It's been this way from the beginning of the Ravens. You can see in the past a lot of things have happened during the game. More often than not, there's going to be some sort of unsportsmanlike flag. I'm not saying that is OK or that we want that or anything. That's just the type of rivalry it is."

Billick said the physical play of the rivalry can be misconstrued.

"Everybody talks about how these two teams hate one another. I don't think that's the case," Billick said. "It gets bitter. It gets emotional. But watch 10 seconds after the gun sounds ... it's magical how they come together and visit one another. It's a hard-fought rivalry - but I think there's a lot of respect here."

Porter has a theory about why the teams rub each other the wrong way.

"You're going to get some dislike because we are too much like each other," he said. "They have a good defense and we feel like we have a good defense. They like to run the ball and we do, too. So, it just brings a natural dislike for each other."

Although the records are not similar this year, that doesn't take away anything from this rivalry.

"It's going to be a passionate game," Ravens receiver Derrick Mason said. "We could play in a parking lot and it would still be a physical game."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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