For the past five seasons, we’ve had a pleasure of watching one of the hardest hitting and most passion-filled rivalries the NFL has to offer. The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have been battling it out since the Ravens’ inception in 1996, but the rivalry didn’t become as intense as we know it today until recently. Since 2008, the Ravens and Steelers have met 12 times, including twice in the playoffs. During this time, the duel started to gain national attention and was garnered as the best rivalry in professional football. However, with the departure of several key players from both teams and the Ravens’ recent successes, has this rivalry reached its peak?
When this rivalry first blossomed, key figures such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs for the Ravens and Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, and James Harrison for the Steelers, made this matchup something truly special to watch. T-Sizzle’s constant trash talk, Hines Ward’s huge blocks, or Ray Lewis’s bone crushing hits elevated this game to the next level. Blood was shed, bones were broken, and jerseys were torn when these teams met and you could truly feel the hatred between them. Yet, slowly but surely, the names and iconic moments that we’ve come to associate with this game are starting to disappear.
Two years ago, the Steelers lost Hines Ward to retirement, and while most Ravens fans were glad to hear that his smile would never be seen on a football field again, his absence took something away from Ravens vs. Steelers. While some of his hits were of questionable legality, they did nothing but amp up the emotion between the teams and he helped lay the groundwork for this strife to grow.
This year, the Ravens will see Ray Lewis retire and probably lose Ed Reed to free agency as well. It also seems likely that James Harrison will become a Steelers’ cap casualty as he is unwilling to take a hometown discount.
Additionally, injuries have taken some of the fierceness out of this classic dogfight. In a third of the games played between the two teams since 2008, a backup has started in place of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, including both games played in 2012. The absence of Roethlisberger in these games took some of the excitement out of them, as his late game heroics and ability to brush off big hits only heighted the competitiveness.
Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers that we’ve grown used to over the past decade or so have started to degrade. I say unfortunately because I honestly enjoy seeing these two teams grind it out all season for the division crown. Last season felt unusual because we weren’t constantly worrying about the Steelers creeping up on the Ravens. They became an afterthought much earlier than usual as their slow start made it difficult for them to stay in the playoff picture. While they did suffer from a lot of injuries, the roster is simply not as talented as it once was and their current free agency problems will make it difficult for them to stay competitive next season.
In my opinion, the two Steelers’ games in 2012 were the most disappointing of the season. While the scores were still close, the games strayed away from the intensity that we’re used to when these teams get together. The marquee matchups are no longer there and it seems that the hatred has started to turn into a mutual respect. This past season may have just been a lull in what will continue to be a great confrontation, but I think it’s safe to say that we have already hit the pinnacle of this rivalry for the time being. We can only hope that both teams are able to fix their issues this offseason so we can continue to enjoy the best matchup in all of football.