Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs wears a T-shirt that tells the Steel City exactly how he feels about its football team.
Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward spits the words "pure hatred" in reference to Baltimore.
If this week's one-upmanship between the players left any doubt, several of this city's iconic sports figures said that the Ravens- Steelers rivalry — which has its next act Saturday at 4:30 in the AFC divisional playoff — burns with more intensity than any they've known.
Once, the Baltimore Bullets and New York Knicks engaged in games that NBA fans would talk about for decades. The Baltimore Colts warred with the Green Bay Packers in the formative years of the NFL. Not unlike most baseball teams, the Orioles yearned to knock the Yankees from their perch.
But none of those battles reached the fervor that has, with almost unwavering consistency, flared whenever the Ravens and Steelers play.
To one longtime chronicler of Baltimore sports, the game represents this city's reckoning with itself.
"Pittsburgh and Baltimore are made for each other. It's like looking at your own face in the mirror," Frank Deford said. "Both teams play smash-mouth football. Both play in old manufacturing towns with shot-and-a-beer, working-class fans. Both are Rodney Dangerfield cities that get no respect. Pittsburgh is the 'other' city in Pennsylvania, and Baltimore is the other city down Interstate 95."
The similarities intensify the rivalry, said Deford, a Baltimore native who works as a writer and commentator for National Public Radio, HBO and Sports Illustrated.
"You always want to beat someone more who's like you, than someone who's different," Deford said. "That's why Pepsi wants to beat Coke more than it does Schweppes Ginger Ale."
Even members of past Baltimore teams, which also had heated feuds with hated opponents, agree that Ravens-Steelers surpasses, in fervor, any match-up of earlier times.
"I don't remember a rivalry like this one," said Jim Mutscheller, who played for the Colts from 1954-61. "We had tough games against mean and dirty players, but today, even the fans of the Ravens and Steelers are rivals. You didn't see that in our time."
Even the legendary basketball showdowns 40 years ago between the Baltimore Bullets and New York Knicks pale compared to the hoopla surrounding Saturday's contest, said Wes Unseld, the Bullets' Hall of Fame center. For five straight years (1969-73), the Bullets and Knicks met in the playoffs in some of the most storied games in NBA history.
"They (Knicks) were fierce, bitter rivals, but there's no way to compare that to this," Unseld said. "There is mass hysteria going on in this city. Everyone's wearing purple. The Ravens have captured the whole town, and I don't know that we (Bullets) ever did that."
Not everyone agrees. In the 1960s, the Colts' rumbles with the Green Bay Packers were every bit as mythic as those between the Ravens and Steelers, said Bill Curry, the former Colts' center.
"I'm biased, but those were such great teams," said Curry, who played for both Green Bay and Baltimore. "In our era, they were every bit as dominant as these two teams today."
The NFL's elite clubs of the decade, Baltimore and Green Bay — led by coach Vince Lombardi — combined to win three Super Bowls in one five-year span.
"Those teams vied for power, back and forth and back and forth," said Mike Gibbons, executive director of the Sports Legends Museum. "The rivalry with Green Bay was unparalleled and at the top of the list, much as Steelers-Ravens is today."
Of the 11 games in which they met between 1964 and 1970, seven were decided by four points or less — including the Packers' 13-10 overtime victory in a 1965 playoff that was historic on two counts. Injuries forced the Colts to play a halfback, Tom Matte, at quarterback, with the offensive plays written onto a wristband that now rests in the Hall of Fame. Moreover, the game was decided by a disputed field goal, prompting the NFL to raise the height of its goal posts. But old Colts and their fans still grouse about that kick.
"It stuck in our craws, that's for sure," defensive back Bobby Boyd said. "But those games with Green Bay were all-out battles long before that."
The Colts had John Unitas; the Packers, Bart Starr. Both quarterbacks became Hall of Famers and pushed each other to the hilt.
Last year, while visiting the Sports Legends Museum, Starr was shown Unitas' first contract with the Colts, for $7,000 in 1956.
"Bart, who'd made $6,500, just shook his head and said, 'Darn it, he beat me again,' " said Gibbons.
More combative, said Matte, was the Colts' rivalry with the Chicago Bears, their sanguine Western Division opponent from 1953-66.