Starkey: Can't Steelers, Ravens be friends?
“There's not a fan sitting at home with a dislocated rib that may burst his aorta if he plays football. There's no fan with a swollen hip because he tried to make a tackle. If you had fans who did that, who felt that way right now, I'm sure they'd take off work. We don't have that opportunity. And if we decide to have friends and congregate with other teams after the game, it shouldn't matter to them as long as we give 100 percent between the lines.” — Steelers safety Ryan Clark
There's a conversation starter. Juicy topic, too: How much fraternizing, and what type, is acceptable among NFL players?
And who exactly is in the best position to make that call?
The subject arises in the wake of Clark visiting the Baltimore Ravens' locker room 45 minutes after the Steelers' loss two weeks ago at Heinz Field.
Some fans were angry with Clark, who walked into the Ravens' victorious locker room — after most players had cleared out — and playfully pretended to be a reporter. He put a tape recorder into the media scrum surrounding his longtime friend, Ravens safety Ed Reed, and asked a question.
Nobody on the '70s Steelers would even think of visiting the other team's locker room after a game … right?
Turns out legendary linebacker Jack Ham did just that after a big game against a bitter rival.
“After the Super Bowl against the Cowboys in Miami, I went into see (quarterback Roger) Staubach,” Ham said. “We hit him a ton. He hung in there and threw the ball. I went into his locker room and just said, ‘You are one helluva competitor.' ”
The opinions that arise from within the fraternity itself should hold the most weight on this issue, and Ham agrees with Clark that it's nobody's business what happens between participants after a game. Other ex-players, however, hold radically different opinions.
Some observers had a similar feeling when an NBC camera caught Steelers receiver Antonio Brown laughing with Reed on the field late in the recent game, during a break, as Steelers receiver Jerricho Cotchery lay injured behind them. Brown claims he and Reed were praying for Cotchery.
Former Steelers cornerback Dewayne Washington couldn't believe it when I told him that Clark had visited Baltimore's locker room.
Washington, remember, was a teammate of Joey Porter's — and Porter once walked the same postgame route as Clark but on a very different mission, in 2003. Porter was looking for Ray Lewis. The two exchanged heated words in the Heinz Field corridor.
“Visiting their locker room right after the game? Nobody I played with would ever do that,” Washington said.“I didn't even want to know what their locker room looked like. But you know, different time, different era.”
Can you imagine if Porter or Hines Ward walked into the Ravens' locker room after a game? Either one might have come out on a stretcher.
“I don't think Hines would be received well at all,” said Steelers tackle Max Starks. “Joey for that matter, either.”
Clark couldn't care less if Ward or Porter would have done the same thing.
“Much as I love Hines and Joey Porter, I'm truly not concerned with the way they chose to conduct themselves,” Clark said. “I play football for the Steelers organization and for Steeler Nation. I don't live my life for the fans. I live my life for God, for my family, my friends and myself, and I'm going to conduct myself any way I want to according to those morals, according to those rights and wrongs.”
Maybe the lesson here is that fraternization, whether anyone likes it or not, is on the rise. Ravens running back Ray Rice shook hands with Clark when the latter entered the locker room. Rice said he doubts he'd ever go into the Steelers' locker room, but … “I don't see any problem with it,” Rice said. “The game's over and done with. You leave all that other stuff on the field.”
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.