View Full Version : 'Bullies' will collide

01-17-2009, 01:35 PM
'Bullies' will collide when Pittsburgh Steelers play Baltimore Ravens for AFC title
Sunday's AFC title game between the Steelers and Ravens will feature two bruising teams from two blue-collar cities.

PITTSBURGH -- Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Derek Mason jokingly referred to himself as Superman on Friday, which is appropriate.

Sunday's AFC Championship Game matchup resembles those Silver Age comic books in which the superhero battled the supervillain whose powers mirrored his own -- Green Lantern vs. Sinestro, Captain Marvel vs. Black Adam, Superman vs. anyone from the Phantom Zone.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, from a genial city that retains the steelworker mentality long after the industry left, brings the NFL's No. 1 defense, a fierce, physical unit working out of a 3-4 alignment and a run-based offense. The Ravens, from a city that rebels against glamour by not making a fuss over much beyond crab cuisine and its NFL team, brings the NFL's No. 2 defense, an angry, physical unit working out of a 3-4 alignment and a run-based offense.

Your team partiality determines who is Flash and who is Professor Zoom in this battle to meet the NFC champion at the altar of America's sports religion, the Super Bowl.


''Man, I think we're bad guys, regardless,'' Ravens All-Pro safety Ed Reed said. ``But, it doesn't matter. We've been at this point for a long time now. We've been saying it doesn't matter who we play or where we play them. Good guy, bad guy, they call it what it is, but at the end of the day, they'll see.''

Players on both sides admit to an honest dislike, but nobody throws around ''hate.'' There's too much respect and too much of themselves in the other side to do that.

''When you get two bullies going up against each other, it's about who is the strongest bully,'' Steelers linebacker James Farrior said.

''That's what makes these games always close, always classy,'' future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis of the Ravens said, ``because they stick to their identity and we stick to our identity.''

OK, Baltimore fans did vote Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward the most hated Steeler, and Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs said during the season on a national radio show that there was a bounty on Ward (the Ravens claimed Suggs misspoke). Ward plays offense with the same affinity for blow-`em-up violence that each team exhibits on defense. Just ask Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers, assuming the jaw Ward broke earlier this year with a block has healed.

'Every now and then, you hear the guys say, `You're not going to break my jaw,' '' Ward said. ``I get a big smile on my face when I hear guys talking about that because they are more worried about me than trying to stop Willie Parker and Heath Miller and those guys.''


This is an old-school rivalry, black-and-blue collar that first played out on black-and-white film. The Cleveland Browns quickly ascended to NFL royalty when they entered the league from the All-America Football Conference, winning the NFL championship their first season and twice more in the next five seasons.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh languished as the NFL's ghetto until the 1970s, when the Steelers became a dynasty. Both were NFL teams moved to the AFC, along with the Baltimore Colts, in the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Then came the unthinkable moves -- the Colts to Indianapolis in 1984, creating a vacuum the Browns filled when they moved to Baltimore in 1996. They donned new colors but kept old grudges.

''The teams are close in personality,'' Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. ``Geographically, we're in the same division. [The Ravens] are the former Cleveland Browns. I think there are a lot of things that make it special, but more than anything, no doubt, it's the players. It's the passion with which they play the game. It's the personalities, whether it's Ray Lewis or Jerome Bettis or Joey Porter or James Farrior or Hines Ward or Bart Scott. All of them play the game the same. They put everything they have into it, every ounce of their fiber into it. That's what makes it special.''

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