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costanza2k1
12-10-2008, 08:13 PM
December 10, 2008 5:04 PM

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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

BALTIMORE -- Welcome to the most underrated rivalry in the National Football League.

It involves toughness, familiarity, hatred, mutual respect and, on Sunday, the AFC North division title.

There is never a shortage of excitement when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens meet. But when you think of the NFL's top rivalries on a leaguewide scale, this one rarely comes to mind.

Pittsburgh versus Baltimore lacks the history of the Green Bay Packers versus Chicago Bears series. It doesn't have the same big-market exposure of the Dallas Cowboys versus Washington Redskins, or the glitzy quarterback play of recent New England Patriots versus Indianapolis Colts games.

Still, the nation should embrace the Ravens (9-4) and Steelers (10-3) when they face off Sunday at 4:15 p.m. It's the only true rivalry within the AFC North and pits two teams that play football the right way.

Expect to see a wealth of Pro Bowl talent. Each team is well coached, and it often comes down to a battle of wills.

"It's the same as Ohio State-Michigan, Florida-Florida State," Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. "It's a close rivalry because both teams have won and both have lost. In order to have a real rivalry you have to have something that's not one-sided. They've broken our hearts and we've broken their hearts."

According to Scott, length and market size are the two things preventing this rivalry from entering the national consciousness of NFL fans.

"People are going on historical records," Scott added. "[The Ravens] are only going on 12-something years."

Better than Browns versus Steelers
Most casual fans would point to Pittsburgh versus Cleveland as the biggest rivalry within the division. Currently, that is both a farce and an injustice.

One of the biggest factors in a rivalry is competitiveness, and that is what's lacking with Cleveland against Pittsburgh. The Steelers have dominated that series since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999.

The Ravens have been in existence since 1996, and Pittsburgh leads the regular-season series 15-10. The Steelers got off to a fast start, winning six of the first seven meetings, as the Ravens were building. But since 2000, Pittsburgh holds just a 9-8 advantage. The Steelers beat the Ravens in their only playoff meeting in January 2002.

Familiarity often breeds contempt, and both are definitely in play with these two teams.

"They play football the way we play football. It's a heated rivalry," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "I think it's born out of mutual respect; at least I can say from our standpoint we respect those guys. They're a physically tough, mentally tough football team. Those are things that we honor and desire to be, and in order to do that, you got to line up and play with guys like these."

Both teams have experienced success, and it usually required running through each other and winning the division.

The Ravens and Steelers have both won Super Bowls in this decade. Baltimore earned the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XXXV and Pittsburgh won its most recent championship in Super Bowl XL. They have also combined for 13 winning seasons so far this decade.

"Both organizations do a great job of the guys they bring in," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis explained. "You look at the Troy Polamalus, the [James] Harrisons, the Casey Hamptons, time and time again. Here, you look at the Ed Reeds, the [Dawan] Landrys, Terrell Suggs, all these guys. I think they're doing a great job of saying if there's one thing we're going to have, that's a good defense."

Huge stakes
Pittsburgh won the first game 23-20 in overtime on Sept. 29 at Heinz Field. But there was a sense immediately after that game that both teams still had unfinished business.

It turned out the Ravens and Steelers were the two best teams in the AFC North, and their recent streaks set up this game with huge playoff implications. If Pittsburgh wins, it clinches the division and the No. 2 seed in the AFC. For Baltimore, a win would forge a tie in the division and potentially clinch a playoff berth with additional help this week.

"I think it's obvious," Ravens receiver Derrick Mason said. "I think everyone in the state of Maryland understands and everyone in the state of Pennsylvania understands what this game means to both teams."

So give the Ravens and Steelers some love this week, NFL fans.

This is a rivalry that shouldn't be ignored.

SteelerOfDeVille
12-10-2008, 08:25 PM
another nice read.

AngryAsian
12-10-2008, 11:46 PM
"They play football the way we play football. It's a heated rivalry," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "I think it's born out of mutual respect; at least I can say from our standpoint we respect those guys. They're a physically tough, mentally tough football team. Those are things that we honor and desire to be, and in order to do that, you got to line up and play with guys like these."

Our coach can be so PC sometimes. In the back of his mind he's really saying... "Yes, we intend to stop throwing pieces of meat to Deebo after Friday so that come Sunday he'll be really ravenous and ready to eat slow moving mammals that are wearing purple and black. As for the rest of my number one rated defense, they'll be ready for the group proctological exam they intend to give Joe Flacco. RIP Joe."

Djfan
12-11-2008, 03:23 AM
It reminds me of the Oilers/Steelers rivalry.

flippy
12-11-2008, 06:09 AM
reminds me of the browns steelers rivalry......

wait, the ravens are the browns.....