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Starkey: Steelers-Ravens Greatest Hits

Hines always tells us he's trying to knock somebody's soul out of their body. Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor .

I like that quote. I remember the question, too. I asked Taylor a few years ago if he might enlighten me on teammate Hines Ward's approach to the game, particularly the physical part of it and Ward's feelings toward the Baltimore Ravens.

The feelings, of course, are mutual and might best be described as a potent mix of revulsion and respect.

It is a rare rivalry that resumes at 1 p.m. Sunday, when the Ravens visit Heinz Field.

These teams aren't into the arena-style football that has come to plague the NFL. They don't play under a roof on a living-room carpet with the thermostat set to 72.5, rolling up points like a pinball machine. They play outdoors, in sun and rain and mud and snow, and bash each other's skulls in. More often than not, defense rules the day.

Some of us prefer it that way.

Mike Tomlin was dead-on Tuesday when he labeled Steelers-Ravens "the best rivalry in the NFL." I wonder if it's also a dying breed, the kind of rivalry we won't see in 10 or 20 years, by which time quarterbacks will play with flags in their belts and tackling will be only semi-legal.

"We're almost illegal now, the way we play," said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, speaking Wednesday of both defenses. "I don't know if you'll see the legendary, physical-type teams (anymore), 'cause everybody wants to see the scoreboard lit up."

Until then, brutality rules when these two teams meet. So here's a six-pack of hits that have helped to define the series:

›› Nov. 5, 2007: James Harrison plants Ed Reed like a javelin. This was a coming-out party for Ravens reject Harrison, who went nuts with nine tackles, 3 12 sacks, three forced fumbles, a recovered fumble and a terrifying takedown of Reed on a punt return. Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce said he knew it wasn't Baltimore's night "when a little, 5-9 linebacker (Harrison actually is listed at 6 feet) gets four sacks. That will never happen again in his life." I immediately relayed the words to Harrison.

His response: "Who's Trevor Pryce?"

›› Sept. 19, 2004: Gary Baxter injures Tommy Maddox. It wasn't a highlight-reel hit when the Ravens' cornerback combined with Terrell Suggs to pop Tommy Gun. But it did change the course of Steelers history. In came rookie Ben Roethlisberger, who suffered a rude introduction to pro football. Afterward, he said, "I'm not Tommy Maddox; can't be Tommy Maddox. I'm just going to do the best I can."

›› Jan. 18, 2009: Ryan Clark sends Willis McGahee to the hospital . The hit — deemed a clean one — knocked both men silly and epitomized what had to be one of the most violent conference title games ever played. Clark made it off the field. McGahee did not; he was carried away in a medical flatbed cart. Clark didn't want to talk much about the play yesterday — he believes too much has been made of it — but said, "It was a clean hit, and you're always looking to make hits like that."

›› Sept. 29, 2008: Ray Lewis snaps Rashard Mendenhall's shoulder blade in half. Lewis met Mendenhall straight-on and put a quick and pitiless end to his rookie season.

›› Nov. 26, 2006: Bart Scott annihilates Big Ben. Untouched off the left end, Scott delivered a shot Roethlisberger called the hardest he'd ever absorbed. Scott said "it felt good to hear the air leave (Roethlisberger's) body." Steelers tackle Willie Colon was watching from the sideline that day. "One of the worst hits I've ever seen," he recalled. "But that's what this series is about — one shot after another."

›› Nov. 5, 2007: Ward blasts Ed Reed and Bart Scott. With some of the legendary figures in Steelers history watching from the sidelines, Ward lit up Reed on a Hines-side hit in the middle of the field and later blasted Scott on the sidelines. That led to Scott vowing to "kill" Ward and to talk of the Ravens putting a bounty on Ward the following season.

Nobody was surprised.

Get ready for another soul-knocker Sunday.

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