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Ravens-Steelers rivalry has stood the test of time

| Sunday, Nov. 26, 2006

Todd Heap begat Joey Porter, who indoctrinated Heap to the explosive Steelers-Baltimore Ravens rivalry two years ago.

Porter begat James Trapp, who two years earlier did unto Plaxico Burress what Porter would later do to Heap.

Lee Flowers begat Hines Ward, who begat Chris McAlister, all three of whom set the Trapp-Burress brouhaha in motion that ultimately laid the groundwork for the Porter-Heap set-to.

Bill Cowher begat Brian Billick, and if you don't know why the respective coaches for the Steelers and Ravens don't exchange Christmas cards, you'd better ask somebody.

What makes the bare knuckles rivalry between the 4-6 Steelers and 8-2 Ravens the equivalent of Ike and Tina Turner, Tanya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, and assault and battery, will be on display today when the AFC North combatants meet at 1 p.m. inside M&T Bank Stadium.

Last year, following a 16-13 overtime loss to the Ravens, Cowher told reporters, "These two teams have a genuine dislike for each other, and that makes for a good football game.''

In a league of 32 teams whose rosters change annually because of free agency and the salary cap, the Steelers-Ravens rivalry stands the test of time.

To understand why the Steelers and Ravens hatred for each other goes well beyond a mere football game, you must first understand the dynamics of the personalities on both teams, beginning with the coaches.

Cowher and Billick have both coached Super Bowl champions -- Cowher last year, and Billick in 2000. Both men are fierce competitors who rule their teams with an iron fist. The players reflect the personality of their coaches.

"It's Pittsburgh. It's a rivalry,'' Billick once said of playing the Steelers. "That's why you play the game.''

In 2002, Cowher complained to the NFL office that the Ravens were playing fast and loose with the injury report when Baltimore starting quarterback Chris Redman didn't play because of a back injury he suffered the Friday before the game. Cowher said he wasn't notified of Redman's injury until Sunday.

"It is something to inquire about because it is the Ravens,'' Cowher said.

Turnabout was fair play when Porter shoved Heap at the end of the first half of the Ravens' 30-13 win over the Steelers in 2004, the Steelers only loss in a 15-1 season.

Billick expressed his anger when Heap, who twisted his ankle on the previous play, took his spot on the line as quarterback Kyle Boller prepared to spike the ball. As the play started, Porter knocked down Heap, who was forced from the game and didn't return.

Porter insisted that his hit on Heap wasn't a cheap shot. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said he would pray for Porter. McAlister responded by calling Porter a name you can't use in a family newspaper.

Since the Ravens moved to Baltimore in 1996, the teams have played 20 times. The Steelers lead, 13-7.

The Steelers dominated early in the series, winning five straight from 1997-99 (including winning both meetings in '97 and '98). The Steelers have won the season series three times, the last time coming in 2002; Baltimore has never won the season series. Both teams split in the year they won the Super Bowl. In the only playoff meeting between the teams, the Steelers won, 27-10, in a 2001 divisional game.

To understand the psyche of the players who follow the lead of their fiery coaches, you must go back in time to understand that both teams are mirror images of each other.

Both teams won NFL titles with dominating running attacks and bruising defenses. And both teams feature hard-hitting, trash talking players such as Porter, Lewis and McAlister who refuse to back down from a challenge.

So, is it any wonder that when Ward was asked recently about the Steelers rivalry with the Cleveland Browns, he replied, "The two cities hate each other. But as far as players hating each other, I don't think it's so much of a rivalry that way. Baltimore's the team you despise or hate the most.''

But Ward was only mimicing the words of Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who two years earlier told reporters, "We're Pittsburgh's kryptonite.''

All hell broke loose in the second quarter of the Steelers 31-18 win over the Ravens four years ago when Trapp intercepted a Steelers pass and was tossed out of bounds by receiver Antwaan Randle El.

Ward got into it with McAlister and Flowers, and others. Burress, another Steelers wideout, ended up on the ground and Trapp jumped on him with both feet and yanked Burress' helmet off his head. Trapp and Burress were ejected, Burress, ironically, for not wearing his helmet that an opposing player removed.

Cowher sent a video of the incident to the league office in New York.

Toss the records out the window when the Steelers and Ravens square off today.

Some of the names and faces have changed, but this year's renewal of the NFL's nastiest rivalry figures to live up to all the pre-game hype.

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