In 15 days, the Steelers and Patriots will play in the inaugural game of the 2015 NFL regular season.
In a tradition started in 2004 (a game which the Patriots also hosted), the Super Bowl champion from the previous season hosts the first game of the new season on Thursday night (unless of course that team is the Baltimore Ravens).
Sometimes this game is a rematch of the previous Super Bowl. Other times, like this one, the game will feature two perennial powerhouse teams.
There’s no doubt about the historical success of Pittsburgh football. Steelers fans will happily tell you, they have won six Super Bowls and they’ll forecast a “Stairway to Seven”. After he retires, Ben Roethlisberger will probably be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and the Steelers have the best wide receiver/running back duo in the league right now (Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell).
As anyone who’s spent any substantial amount of time in either Baltimore or Pittsburgh knows, these two teams and fan bases do not get along. Although each group knows deep down how talented and accomplished the other group is, they will almost never admit it. It would be like conceding their foothold on their path to the NFL mountaintop. It’s a non-option.
Off the top of your head, you might think that Pittsburgh has a better professional football history than Baltimore, due to the incessant utterance of the word “Sixburgh” you’ve heard over the years. However, even though the Ravens are a young franchise, Baltimore’s professional football foundation was laid by a richly talented and determined bunch of Colts from 1953-83.
When you step back from common perception, you see the battle between these two cities is a fair fight.
Even though it’s difficult to discern which city has fielded the best teams, the insertion of factual data into the conversation helps lend clarity.
- NFL team for 50 years (1953-83, 1996-present)
- Won five world titles
- 5-2 record in world title games (71.4 percent)
- Has won a world title every 10 years (on average)
- Won its first world title in its 6th season
- NFL team for 82 years (1933-present)
- Won six world titles
- 6-2 in world title games (75.0 percent)
- Has won a world title every 13.7 years (on average)
- Won its first world title in its 42nd season
So if Baltimore wins a world title more often than Pittsburgh does, and won its first world title within its first six seasons, whereas Pittsburgh took over four decades to accomplish that same feat, why do Pittsburgh fans act so superior?
Many will point to Joe Flacco’s poor performance in the 2008 AFC Championship game as a reason why Pittsburgh has the edge over Baltimore. He’s the best player Baltimore has, and on that day, in a huge moment, he played poorly (albeit over six years ago).
A closer look at the numbers shows Ben Roethlisberger is in the same boat.
Flacco threw three interceptions as a rookie in the 2008 AFC Championship game hosted by Pittsburgh, and lost by two scores to the eventual Super Bowl champion.
Roethlisberger threw three interceptions as a rookie in the 2004 AFC Championship game hosted by Pittsburgh, and lost by two scores to the eventual Super Bowl champion.
Yet, in the most recent meeting between the two teams, Baltimore beat Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh in last year’s wild card playoff round, 30-17. In that game Flacco threw for 259 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions, while Roethlisberger threw for 334 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions.
You’ll hear a lot of things from Pittsburgh fans, but you’re not likely to hear them:
- Mention how Flacco led Baltimore on a game-winning drive in Pittsburgh two years in a row, capped off by a touchdown throw within the final minute on both occasions (2010, 2011).
- Mention how Terrell Suggs has sacked Roethlisberger 17.5 times; the most of any player ever.
- Stop bragging about the six Super Bowls their team has won. (Do Yankees fans blurt, “27!”)
- Admit that Baltimore football isn’t only relevant, it’s more successful more often than Pittsburgh football.
Stats don’t lie.