A once-noisy rivalry once is calming down
The games were good, but the players made the series. Any Ravens game against Pittsburgh used to be paradise for reporters because the players talked so much trash in the week leading up to the game.
The stories are legendary. Who can forget Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe calling Pittsburgh wide receiver Plaxico Burress “Plexiglas” or Ravens linebacker Bart Scott threatening to kill Hines Ward after a game in 2008?
The top four trash talkers were Sharpe, Ward, Scott and Steelers linebacker Joey Porter. Porter was involved in perhaps the best story of the rivalry.
In August 2003, Porter missed the first game against the Ravens because of a gunshot blast that hit him outside a Denver bar. He thought the Ravens’ Ray Lewis had mocked his famed boot kick celebration during that game and wasn’t happy about it.
After the game, Porter was still so mad at Lewis that he wanted to fight him near the Ravens team buses. He rounded up Burress and running back Jerome Bettis to go with him, but they declined.
They told Porter he played on defense and didn’t have to play against Lewis. They were on offense and didn’t want to get Lewis angry for next year’s game.
Sharpe started the banter between the two teams when he came to Baltimore for the 2000 season.
“We hated them,” Sharpe told The Baltimore Sun in a phone conversation Thursday. “They talked crazy to us, so we talked crazy to them.
“When I first got [to Baltimore in 2000], coach [Brian] Billick told me I could say whatever I wanted, so you know me, I was like an octopus. Once I got my tentacles on you, there was no escape.”
No player in the brief history of the Ravens has been more despised than Ward. He is the player every opposing fan hates but would love to have on their team. His peel-back blocks were vicious and cheap, and he once leveled Ravens safety Ed Reed with one in Pittsburgh.
But on Sept. 11, 2011, Jarret Johnson, a decent outside linebacker, became a legend in Baltimore. Ward caught a short-yard pass across the middle and Johnson cut him in half with a tackle. As Ward lay on the turf with his toes pointed in the air, Johnson got a rousing ovation.
The second-biggest hit by a Raven on a Steeler came in 2006, when Scott came untouched off the left side and crushed an unsuspecting Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers quarterback. You can find that picture in a lot of homes of Ravens fans.
But those were clean hits. There were some others that weren’t, such as when cornerback Frank Walker spit in the mouth of Pittsburgh punter Mitch Berger in 2008, which Walker called a “slobber moment.”
There was the time Ravens defensive back James Trapp jumped and tapdanced with his cleats on the stomach of Burress in 2002.
Even the two former coaches didn’t get along. Pittsburgh had Bill “The Chin” Cowher, and the Ravens had Brian “The Mouth” Billick.
During his first three seasons as the Ravens coach, Billick went 3-0 in Pittsburgh. After the third win, he said he liked playing there, referring to the intensity of the games.
Cowher took offense, so after he won four on the road against the Ravens, he said in 2002: “I love playing here in Baltimore.”
“The first year I was there we beat them like 16-0, and I said it was the worst Pittsburgh team I ever played against,” Sharpe said. “They beat us the second time around and Cowher told people to tell Shannon Sharpe the Steelers are going to be just fine. He loved this stuff.”
Current Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin and the Ravens’ John Harbaugh don’t seem to like each other, but that might be more based on competition. Tomlin, though, did put his own stamp on their series a few years ago when he was shown on video shadow-boxing in the tunnel before taking the field in Pittsburgh, and also when seemingly he tried to trip Jacoby Jones as the returner was running down the sideline in Baltimore.
But it’s not like that anymore. Players have gone silent, and they talk about mundane things. The Ravens know that if they win, they can at least be tied with the Steelers for first place in the AFC North. Ho-hum.
We need more pregame sparring. We need Sharpe again. We need Sam Adams telling the Steelers they’d better bring a lunch pail for this game.
Instead, the biggest drama this week has been whether Roethlisberger will play because of a knee injury. The other is Suggs talking about how it used to be in this rivalry.
It never used to be this quiet. Brian Billick Bill Cowher