A once-noisy ri­valry once is calm­ing down

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS WEEK­END - Mikepre­ston@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/MikePre­stonSun

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

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