When the Ravens were watching the AFC divisional game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers on Sunday, they found themselves in an unusual situation.
The Ravens players were actually rooting for the Steelers.
As in most of the postseason, the Ravens got what they wanted, gaining a rematch - or third grudge match - with their division rivals in Sunday's AFC championship game.
"We were kind of hoping for it. It's an opportunity for one of our organizations to really build up the level of hatred," Ravens inside linebacker Bart Scott said. "Somebody is going to be happy, somebody is going to be hurt."
Comments like these yesterday were surprising from the usually tight-lipped Ravens, who rarely give opponents "bulletin-board" material.
But the Ravens still feel the sting of two losses to the Steelers this season.
On Sept. 29, the Ravens led 13-3 in the second half only to lose on a 46-yard field goal in overtime. Last month, the Ravens held a 9-3 advantage in the fourth quarter only to fall on a controversial touchdown catch by Santonio Holmes in the final minute.
After evening the score with the Tennessee Titans last week, the Ravens are looking for more redemption.
"If you feel like you didn't necessarily get beat but you lost the game, you always want to have the opportunity to play that team again," Ravens safety Jim Leonhard said. "Pittsburgh's got us twice this year, and give them all the credit in the world for doing that, but we feel like we have our opportunity in front of us. We have one goal all season, and that's to win the Super Bowl. And we have to beat Pittsburgh to get there."
Leonhard said that before he joined the Ravens it was obvious the teams didn't like each other. His opinion didn't change after playing two games in the heated rivalry.
"You know you have to come to work 60 minutes that day or you're going to get it handed to," Leonhard said.
While the players and coaches have changed over the seasons, the bad blood has remained.
Earlier this season, Ravens defensive end-linebacker Terrell Suggs bragged about having bounties on Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward and running back Rashard Mendenhall (who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury on a hit by Ray Lewis). Suggs later said there were no bounties, saying they were players that the defense were focused on stopping.
In the last meeting, Ravens cornerback Frank Walker spat in the face of punter Mitch Berger, according to Berger. Walker explained that it was an accident, calling it a "slobber moment."
Said Ward after Sunday's win over the Chargers: "It's not going to be a street fight. It's going to be a war."
This is one topic on which Ward and Scott - two of the biggest adversaries - both agree.
"It's two teams that try to impose their will on each other," Scott said. "Whenever you have two teams that are evenly matched, both sides are going to pay the price on the body. I look at it like [Miguel] Cotto and [Antonio] Margarito. Nobody is running or ducking or hiding from each other. We're going to stand in the middle of the ring, and we'll see who comes out on top."
Altercations, late hits and personal fouls have been a running theme in this rivalry.
Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson made a costly mistake in the first meeting with a late hit on Ward. That personal foul jump-started the Steelers' rally.
In a series in which tempers can flare, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said his team won't keep its emotions "in check."
"But our emotions are going to be focused and directed at what needs to be done to win a football game," Harbaugh said. "Our guys are smart and disciplined. I think they'll be that way on Sunday."
This third meeting wasn't a surprise for the Ravens or the Steelers. The Ravens not only wanted another shot at the Steelers, but some players also predicted it after the second meeting.
"Some teams you know when you face them once or twice there is the possibility you'll have the opportunity to play them again, and the Steelers are one of those teams," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We just had to be patient, and our opportunity is here. We just have to take advantage of it."
With two road wins already in this season's playoffs, the sixth-seeded Ravens are not backing down from the challenge.
"You want to play the best, and I think they are the best right now," Scott said. "You want to test yourself. We look forward to it."