PITTSBURGH — — Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game between the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers pits two teams who dislike — but love to hit — each other.
Whenever there's a throwdown involving these two AFC North rivals, who are separated by 249 miles (and often very few points), it could lead to a bounty, a death threat or a cheap shot. Quarterbacks have been knocked out of games. A running back has been knocked out for a season.
It's an intense rivalry that is so hard-nosed that it has even featured a broken nose.
"I think you always have a perception that it's a great rivalry, but I don't think anybody that hasn't been a part of it really understands it and can really appreciate it until you're in it," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "When you're in it, I think all the comments and what you see is all very real and very true and apply to this rivalry like none I've been a part of before."
Comments like these:
"I think it's going to be World War III," Ravens safety Dawan Landry said.
"It's going to be a train wreck," Ravens guard Ben Grubbs said.
"This is definitely Armageddon," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said.
Harbaugh later pointed out that Armageddon is a Biblical reference to the end of the world. "I'm hopeful that it doesn't take place on Saturday," Harbaugh said.
Still, the team that wins — or survives — moves on to the AFC championship game where it will face the winner of Sunday's game between the New England Patriots and New York Jets.
While it's not quite time to crown a champion, some believe the winner at Heinz Field will be celebrating in Dallas in three weeks.
The fifth-seeded Ravens, coming off a 30-7 rout at the Kansas City Chiefs, are attempting to become the AFC's first wild-card entry in five years to reach the Super Bowl. They have won five straight games since losing to the Steelers last month.
The second-seeded Steelers, coming off a bye, are looking to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in three seasons. Pittsburgh also reached the Super Bowl in 2008 as the No. 2 seed.
"You can argue Atlanta and New England, but anyone could argue the winner of this game will most likely go on to win the Super Bowl," Suggs said.
That is, if the Ravens and Steelers don't beat up on each other too much Saturday. Unlike any other rivalry in the NFL, this one is defined as much by big hits as victories.
Here is a look at the top five hits of the past five seasons in this rivalry:
1. Ravens LB Bart Scott slams Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger to the turf. Nov. 26, 2006. An unblocked Scott came storming off the edge and slammed Roethlisberger to the ground. Roethlisberger lay on the turf for almost a minute writhing in pain, but he later returned to the game. "I heard him make this 'ungh' sound, like air rushing out," Scott later said. "I jumped up and did my bird dance, then looked back and saw Ben was still down, and I'm like, 'Yeah, I knocked him out of the game.' "
2. Ravens RB Willis McGahee gets laid out by Steelers SS Ryan Clark. Jan. 18, 2009. Catching a pass downfield, McGahee took a helmet-to-helmet blow from Clark. McGahee stayed on the ground motionless for many minutes before getting strapped to a stretcher and taken from the field. "Yeah, I blacked out," McGahee said. "When I woke up, they were taking my face mask off, but I was still talking. I don't know how I was doing it. I just remember that my eyes were closed, and I was still talking. The next thing I know, we're in some kind of room in their stadium, and then we were in the ambulance."
3. Ravens FS Ed Reed gets crushed by Steelers WR Hines Ward. Nov. 5, 2007. Reed was looking at the ball-carrier and didn't see Ward running at him full speed. Ward's helmet caught Reed on the chin and lifted him off his feet. Scott, who also took a mammoth hit from Ward in that same quarter, confirmed Ward's claim that he threatened to "kill" the wide receiver for those hits. "I threatened him," Scott said defiantly. "If I see him again, I'm going to threaten him again."
4. Ravens LB Ray Lewis fractures Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall's shoulder. Sept. 29, 2008. Lewis ended Mendenhall's rookie season with a punishing hit. In the week leading up to that game, the Ravens claimed Mendenhall sent a text to Ray Rice boasting he was going to have a big game against them. That's when the Ravens allegedly put bounties on Mendenhall and Ward. Suggs backed off his "bounty" comment by saying, "We, the players, don't pay each other to take another player out of the game."
5. Ravens LB Jameel McClain knocks out Steelers TE Heath Miller. Dec. 5, 2010. McClain hit a falling Miller in the head with his forearm, shoulder pads and helmet at the end of a pass play. Miller suffered a concussion but walked off the field. McClain was fined $40,000. "You never want any type of play like that to happen in football in general because those are horrible types of plays," McClain said.