OWINGS MILLS – Broken noses, blindside blocks, brutal tackles and even the odd death threat have defined the Baltimore Ravens’ blood rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Regardless of the stakes or timing, the intensity and violent hitting never ceases.
"We know everybody is expecting a gang fight," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "So, we are just going to hold up our half of the bargain. Everything that fans want to see out of a rivalry is in this game, the hatred between the two teams, the physicality between the two teams. I think it’s the best rivalry in sports."
Despite this only being the first game of the year today at M&T Bank Stadium for both teams and not a playoff game or a pivotal late-season encounter, the raw emotions are always present whenever the Ravens and Steelers hit the field.
"It’s always a very physical game, it’s usually close and usually very low-scoring," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "It’s two very, very good defenses going against each other. It’s in the division, so I think that adds a little something extra to it."
Especially for the Ravens after having their season ended two of the past three seasons by Pittsburgh, including an AFC title game loss three seasons ago and an AFC divisional playoff loss in January.
"They spoiled our Super Bowl dreams for the last two out of three years," Suggs said. "We have to switch that, you know? It’s sickening. It ends our season every year we lose to our division rival. I’m sick of it. I’m disgusted. I’m tired of having a sick feeling in my stomach for a whole year. Game One, let’s go."
There are many great traditional rivalries in the NFL, including the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears and the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys.
Since the Ravens’ inaugural season in 1996, the Steelers have emerged as their most hated opponent.
"I asked a few of the guys on the team about the rivalry and how deep the disgust between the teams exists," said Ravens center Andre Gurode, a former Cowboy. "The Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is pretty serious, but I don’t think I have ever seen anything like a rivalry like this."
Few series seem to inspire the football purist that embraces the collision aspect of the sport as much as Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
"There are no better games to play in for your legacy, for the reason you play the game," Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "To have that type of respect that, when people across the world hear Baltimore and Pittsburgh, everyone is going to have a front row seat for that because they know exactly what they’re going to get for that. And that’s the level of respect you carry in the league.
"I was young enough that I was able to really see the Dallas and San Francisco rivalry when they were really going at it. So, now we’ve created that rivalry for 16 years. So, to actually be a part of something like that is so special, you almost can’t explain it."
Three seasons ago, Ravens running back Willis McGahee was knocked unconscious on a devastating hit from Steelers safety Ryan Clark.
Last December, Roethlisberger got his nose broken when he was swatted in the face by Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
Lewis recalled when the Ravens shut out the Steelers in the first game of their Super Bowl season.
"It’s never too early to get it on," Lewis said. "What it defines right now is what your season is going to be like or not. What it defines is it’s an AFC team, it’s in your division. Deal with what you’ve got to deal with right now."
"The stakes are the same," Suggs said. "The stakes are always the same. It always comes back to this game between the two teams."
That’s because they’re both chasing the same goal, are geographically close, play in the same black-and-blue division and just plain dislike each other.
"Both teams are similarly committed to the same thing, which is putting themselves in position to pursue the Lombardi trophy," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "You know, a prerequisite for that is division dominance. So, we’re always going to have issues with one another in regards to that."
Ravens safety Ed Reed put the importance of this game into perspective.
"It kind of means a lot, but it’s a long season," he said. "It’s not a do-or-die situation."
Still, there’s no mistaking this fact: The Steelers have won six of the past eight games against the Ravens.
That heightens the motivation for Baltimore.
"I don’t want to downplay it, because that would be a little disingenuous," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "It’s a big game."