Past and present participants talk about their memories of Ravens-Steelers rivalry

November 17, 2012|By Jeff Zrebiec

As the Ravens prepare for Sunday’s AFC North showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the latest chapter of what many consider the NFL’s best rivalry, The Sun caught up this week with several participants from the series to get some of their memories from past meetings.

Not long after he was selected in the first round by the Ravens in 1997, linebacker Peter Boulware starting hearing about a burgeoning rivalry with the Steelers and how much Ravens’ fans disliked that team from Pittsburgh. After a standout college career at Florida State, Boulware’s idea of a rivalry centered on the Seminoles’ annual grudge match with the Florida Gators. But that was about to change. Boulware said this week that playing in the Ravens-Steelers’ rivalry “changes you forever.”

“They didn’t really compare. It’s funny, but I tell people all the time in Tallahassee that although Florida is a huge rival, I can honestly say that I dislike the Pittsburgh Steelers 10 times more than I dislike the Florida Gators,” Boulware said. “When I first played them, they had Mark Bruener. He was a tight end and he was a bruiser. He used to hold all the time and I thought he was a cheap player just because he did that. But it wasn’t just him. Kordell Stewart, in my first year, he broke a 50-yard run on us, and then Jerome Bettis, all those guys, they just had a lot of guys that were good players, but they talked a lot of trash, too. And we talked our trash. We had our players as well. Again, if you played the Pittsburgh Steelers, you were out for blood.”  

Bill Cowher was the head coach of the Steelers for 15 seasons before becoming a studio analyst for the NFL on CBS. When he was asked what was his biggest memory from the rivalry, he said, “I sit next to my memory every Sunday,” referring to former Ravens tight end and his current CBS colleague, Shannon Sharpe. Cowher said that he and Sharpe “relive the rivalry all the time,” especially the two weeks a year the Ravens-Steelers play. Sharpe constantly brings up how the Ravens opened their Super-Bowl winning 2000 season with a 16-0 victory over the Steelers. Cowher reminds Sharpe that the Steelers beat the Ravens, 9-6, two month later. The one memory that sticks out to Cowher, however, is the start of the Ben Roethlisberger era in 2004, fittingly against the Ravens.

“Obviously, it was in an unfortunate way but that’s where Ben got his indoctrination,” Cowher said. “Tommy Maddox got a pretty big hit, I think, from Bart Scott. And we brought Ben Roethlisberger in during his rookie year in the season game of the season and he finished the game. Baltimore beat us pretty good and Ben’s first start was next week in Miami and we never looked back. His career started because of a big hit from the Ravens that put Tommy Maddox out of the game.”

Some of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s best and worst moments as a pro have come on the worn grass at Heinz Field. But just days before he was to return to the scene of his last-second, game-winning touchdown pass to Torrey Smith last year, Flacco recalled his first visit to play the Steelers in 2008, a 23-20 overtime loss in a prime-time game.

“It was a lot of fun. We went up there, and we played a game that we probably all think we should have won. Obviously, we were disappointed, but it was a lot of fun to go up there,” Flacco said. “Being a rookie, just going up there and feeling how physical they are as a team and how good they are as a team, it’s always been a great place to go back to every year. The other thing I remember is we hit Derrick Mason in the corner, and if we had probably challenged the play, we might have gotten a touchdown out of it. We never challenged it and they called it incomplete.”

Former Ravens running back Jamal Lewis didn’t consider himself a trash talker. He spoke with his pads and any time he had the ball in his hands. But the Steelers, particularly their linebacker trio of Joey Porter, Larry Foote and James Farrior, who Lewis calls “The Three Amigos,” had a way of bringing out the worse in Lewis. He relished the opportunity to shut them up.

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