Ravens, Steelers getting ready to play the feud

RAVENS INSIDER

December 13, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

When Lorenzo Neal was the starting fullback in San Diego, the Chargers' rivals were the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos. But his best memories of a feud were when his Tennessee Titans used to play the Ravens.

Neal knows the deal.

West Coast rivalries don't match up to those on the East Coast. Those games are too cute, too soft. But when the Ravens host the Pittsburgh Steelers tomorrow at M&T Bank Stadium, this might become a classic.

"When you get to the East Coast, those Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Tennessee - it's that black-and-blue league," Neal said. "It's not that fancy, draw-in-the-dirt stuff. It's smash-mouth football. It's that 3 yards and a cloud of dust, blood on your nose. You're sweating, and every team is out there trying to take somebody's head off.

"They're trying to get you, you're trying to get them," Neal said. "Those are the types of games where you tell your kids, 'I played in that one.' "

It's throwback day in Baltimore tomorrow. Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street has been torn down, but Ravens vs. Steelers should bring back some memories of the Colts and Giants, and Colts and Browns.

It will be cold, and it's the late-season push for teams with postseason ambitions. The weather on the West Coast allows offenses to be pretty this time of the season, but on the East Coast, you usually have to pound the ball in adverse playing conditions.

Running the ball is what the Ravens and Steelers love to do, but the similarities don't end there. These teams and franchises are so much alike, which is why they probably despise each other.

Both teams represent blue-collar cities with storied NFL pasts.

Both have young, up-and-coming quarterbacks, even though the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger has already won a Super Bowl.

There are some around the league who think the Ravens used Roethlisberger as their model when they selected quarterback Joe Flacco in the first round of April's draft.

Both came from small schools, Roethlisberger from Miami of Ohio and Flacco from Delaware. Roethlisberger is 6 feet 5 and 241 pounds, and Flacco is 6-6 and 230. The biggest question surrounding each of them coming out of college was whether they could play up to the speed of the NFL.

We all now know the answer is yes.

Even the top receivers from both teams - the Steelers' Hines Ward and the Ravens' Derrick Mason - are similar: tough guys who lack speed but are fearless and know how to get open.

You'll see a lot of emotion from both coaches on the sidelines tomorrow because both are old-school. Neither likes to talk a lot, and neither has an out-of-control ego like Bill Parcells or Jimmy Johnson.

It was fun watching Steelers coach Mike Tomlin shadowboxing as he came out of the tunnel last season during introductions in Pittsburgh.

John Harbaugh is just as hard-core. He has preached teamwork and hard work since Day One and hasn't been afraid to put a finger in a player's chest to make a point.

Harbaugh has to love being in tomorrow's game. He was a child when his father was an assistant at Michigan. This has to bring back memories of Ohio State and the Wolverines slugging it out.

There will be a lot of pride on the line. Pittsburgh has the No. 1 defense in the NFL, and the Ravens are No. 2.

It's a dream game played by some of the league's best linebackers, with the Steelers having LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, James Harrison and Larry Foote.

Are they the best in the game, or is the Ravens' group of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott and Jarret Johnson better?

It's the same at safety, where the Steelers have Troy Polamalu and the Ravens have Ed Reed.

You can understand this rivalry. Since 2000, there have been so many verbal shots exchanged between coaches Bill Cowher and Brian Billick, from Shannon Sharpe to Plaxico Burress, from Scott to Ward, up to Suggs' saying the Ravens had a bounty on Ward earlier this season.

My favorite story is how then-Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, after a game in Pittsburgh, tried to round up Burress and running back Jerome Bettis to fight Lewis outside the Ravens' bus. But Bettis and Burress declined because they knew they had to play against Lewis again, while Porter was on the other side of the ball.

It's crazy stuff. But deep down inside, there is a great deal of mutual respect.

"Both teams are playing for the division title," Mason said. "We got a chance to go 10-4, and we have a chance to make Pittsburgh 10-4. It doesn't get any bigger. It's that type of scenario, and Pittsburgh understands that. They are well coached. They are well prepared. We're well coached, and we are well prepared. It's two heavyweight boxers. Both of us are champions, and both of us get to find out what we're made of because there aren't any secrets to this game."

Listen to Mike Preston on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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