Baltimore’s Best Football Rivalries

Street Talk Baltimore’s Best Football Rivalries

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Back in April of 2005 we examined Baltimore’s Best Football Rivalries. Today we revisit the list and ask you to let us know if time has changed this list in our poll below…


3. Baltimore Colts vs. Washington Redskins, 1953-1969, Colts 13-3, they never met in the Post Season

The Colts re-entered the NFL in 1953. Washington owner George Preston Marshall was of course against it. His games played on local radio in Baltimore and he did not want to lose the income. He petitioned the league for compensation and commissioner Bert Bell flatly told him “No!” Bell believed that having Baltimore back in the league would be good for every team and therefore compensation was not warranted. that he did not deserve any compensation. This story has a familiar ring to it, doesn’t it? Did someone say Pete Angelos?

Neither the Colts or Redskins were very good in the early fifties. But this rivalry took off for two reasons: 1) Geography — the towns are only 40 miles apart; and 2) The genius of the NFL schedule makers. The Redskins and Colts were in different divisions and back then just like today, division teams played twice every year and played only two teams per season from the other division. The NFL had the Colts and Redskins play every year, the only non division rivals to do so.

As the Colts became a great football in the late fifties, the Redskins became one of the worst teams in the league and the Colts dominated the series. As the rivalry moved into the sixties, the Colts won ten straight from 1960 to 1969. John Unitas and company had little trouble with the Redskins defense and the Colts were able to hold Redskins QB Sonny Jurgensen in check during the entire decade. The rivalry ended when the Colts were moved to the AFC from the NFL in 1970.

Now, the most ironic aspect of this rivalry. As we all know the Colts set records for attendance and consecutive sellouts during this period. On the other side of the coin was Washington where the Redskins would only get about half of the seats filled during this period. Marshall decided in 1960 to move the Redskins to Louisville, Kentucky, yes, Louisville, Kentucky due to low attendance. But new commissioner Pete Rozelle convinced him to stay. This was before the big TV deal Art Modell signed with CBS in 1962 that gave every team equal money.

Rozelle and his aides, were able to show Marshall that his one game per year against Baltimore made him more money along with his regular attendance than he would at full capacity in Louisville the entire season. When Colts visited Griffith Stadium in Washington, Marshall enjoyed sellouts due to visiting Baltimore fans. He also enjoyed higher ticket prices for those games by increasing face value by $2 and effectively capitalizing on the Baltimore fans‘ passion for their Colts When the Redskins visited Baltimore, Marshall was of course guaranteed big money for the visiting teams share of the gate receipts. After dissecting the numbers, Marshall realized that due to the Colts/Redskins rivalry, he would make more money by staying put than heading to the host city of the Kentucky Derby. So to sum up the situation, all Redskin fans owe the Colts and their fans a big thank you for keeping the Redskins in D.C.

2. Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1996 to Present, Regular Season Steelers 12-6, Post Season, Steelers 1-0

(The head-to-head records of course have changed since this post) This has turned into one of the best rivalries in the NFL. Baltimore fans in 1996 still disliked the Washington Redskins more than the Steelers. In fact in 1997, despite the Steelers being division rivals, when the P.A. announcer stated that the Steelers had defeated Washington 14-13, the crowd cheered for the Redskin loss. This puzzled Ravens owner Art Modell, “Why would Ravens fans cheer for a divisional rival to beat a team from the other conference?” Good point Mr. Modell — but things would change.

When the Browns moved here for the 1996 season most Raven fans were just happy to have a team. For the most part Baltimore football fans were indifferent towards the Steelers, Bengals, or Oilers. The first meeting between the teams was a routine Steelers 31-17 win in Pittsburgh. The Ravens had opened the season the week before by beating Oakland 19-14. The town and the Ravens were then newlyweds, enjoying the honeymoon stage.

By the last weekend in November it was obvious that the Ravens were not going to make the playoffs. With a steady rain falling the entire day in Baltimore, the Ravens hosted the Steelers before a crowd that seemed a bit tempered at kickoff. Many Ravens season ticket holders decided not to go to the game due to weather. For those who were there though, the Ravens/Steelers rivalry began to blossom.

The first thing you noticed that rainy day in Memorial Stadium was that there were more Steeler fans than Raven fans. My first thought was, they reminded me of old Colt fans who would travel anywhere to see their beloved horseshoes play on the road. It only took a couple of minutes to realize though that this was a different breed of fan from my old Colt days. These people were obnoxious, and disrespectful to everything and everybody around them. This game went from being a meaningless game in a 4-12 season to a meaningful one. A Super Bowl of sorts for Baltimore.

When Jonathan Ogden scored on a tackle eligible pass for the game’s first touchdown, the crowd returned the verbal assault to the enemy fans wearing black and gold. The Ravens won that day 31-17. Not only did Baltimore notch a victory, it also notched a new team to despise on the level of the Redskins.

In 1997, Kordell Stewart took over for Mike Tomczak at quarterback and began to have success moving the ball for Pittsburgh. Earlier during that season in Baltimore under glorious skies, Stewart spent the first half throwing as many interceptions as completions and the Ravens enjoyed a comfortable halftime lead. Then came the second half. Will Blackwell ran the second half kickoff back for a touchdown. Stewart made unbelievable plays with both his arm and his feet as he led the Steelers to a 42-34 come from behind win. The Steelers’ fans in attendance made the loss all the more difficult to swallow.

In 1998, the Ravens opened their new stadium with a 20-13 loss to Pittsburgh, and lost again later in the year to them 16-6. In 1999, Brian Billick’s first year, the Ravens lost again to Pittsburgh 23-20 at home. This added up to five consecutive losses. The streak was snapped when Tony Banks and Qadry Ismail led the Ravens to a 31-24 win. Better days were ahead…so we hoped.

In 2000 we opened the season in Three Rivers Stadium, Banks hit Ismail for the games only touchdown and the defense shut out Pittsburgh 16-0. It was Pittsburgh’s first home shutout loss since opening day 1989. The Ravens would lose later that season during the touchdown drought, falling to the Steelers 9-6. In 2001 the Steelers beat Elvis Grbac and the Ravens 27-10 in the playoffs in a game that was never close. In 2002, the Steelers swept the Ravens. The most memorable part of those two games was the Jeff Blake interception to end the season in the Steelers end zone, and Jeff for some reason did not seem to be too uptight about it as he left the field in the warm embrace of Bill Cowher.

2003 saw the Steelers easily beat the Ravens on opening day in Pittsburgh 34-15. With Jamal Lewis aiming to break Eric Dickerson’s all time single season rushing record, the Ravens beat the Steelers in overtime to end the regular season in a meaningless game. Well, at least it was meaningless in the standings and in the playoff seedings. However, this brutally fought contest served as a testimony to this burgeoning rivalry and it proved that no Ravens v. Steelers contest in meaningless. Lewis rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown but fell short of Dickerson‘s record by 39 yards. Matt Stover won the game in overtime with a field goal 13-10 as the Ravens won their first AFC North championship.

2004 saw the teams split games as the Ravens dominated the Steelers in week two in Baltimore. The Ravens sent quarterback Tommy Maddox to the bench for the rest of the season with an injury. Rookie Ben Roethlisberger stepped in and after the Ravens loss did not lose another game until the AFC Championship when the Patriots experience proved to be too much for the rookie and the Steelers again missed the Super Bowl.

So much for history. This rivalry has become the new model for heated NFL rivalries and dirty play on the field as evidenced by Steelers’ linebacker Joey Porter’s cheap shot on injured Ravens TE Todd Heap in week two at the line of scrimmage. The contempt and disdain for each other is not only manifested in the players, it is also indicative of the teams’ respective fans attitudes towards each other.

1. Baltimore Colts vs. Green Bay Packers, 1959-1967, Regular Season Packers 10-7, Post Season Packers 1-0

In our previous article we discussed the Bear Packer rivalry and named it the best rivalry in pro football history. They have the tradition and the respect for each other that goes back to 1921 and exemplifies the rich heritage of the NFL. This week we also looked at the most intense rivalry in football today, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, two teams and cities that really do not like each other. But in the history of the NFL, the best football played between two teams for a period of time took place when the Baltimore Colts and the Green Bay Packers convened between 1959 and 1967. No two teams in NFL history were as evenly matched and featured better players than these two teams during that time. Every one of their games ultimately decided who would win the NFL championship for that season and each of their games beginning in 1962 to 1967 was televised nationally.

The Colts were defending NFL champions in 1959, and the entire nation had embraced John Unitas as its newest sports hero and the Baltimore Colts were the true “America’s Team”. Vince Lombardi had just taken over as the Packers head coach. Lombardi had a dislike and a respect for the Colts all at the same time. When Unitas and the Colts were beating the New York Giants in overtime in the Greatest Game Ever Played, Lombardi was coaching his last game for the Giants as their offensive coordinator. He was hired by Green Bay as their new head coach a few weeks later to turn around the worst team in football in 1958, the 1-10-1 Packers.

These were two division rivals on a collision course. In 1958 the Colts beat the Packers 56-0 in Baltimore late in the year. Some of the Packers felt that the Colts had run the score up on them. John Unitas and the Colts won both games in 1959, but they were close games. The Colts won the championship again in 1959 and the Packers finished second in the Colts division. By 1960 Lombardi felt he had his team in place and Colt coach Weeb Ewbank and the rest of the NFL felt that another Colt championship was a formality. In week 10 of the 1960 season, the Colts had a one game lead on the Packers, after splitting their two earlier divisional contests. During the second game against the Packers, Colts fullback Alan Ameche injured his back and could not play. The Colts lost their last three games and the Packers won their last three and claimed the Western Division title, their first since 1944.

The Colt grip on the Western Division title was gone and they wanted it back. In 1961, the Packers won the first game in Green Bay 45-7 as the Packers sacked Unitas seven times. A few weeks later in Baltimore the Colts beat the Packers 45-21 as Packers QB Bart Starr was intercepted four times. The Packers won the division and went on to defeat the Giants 37-0 for the NFL Championship. In 1962, Lombardi fielded his best team he ever had and finished the season 13-1 with another championship to boot. They beat the Colts twice that year, after which they replaced head coach Week Ewbank with Don Shula.

In 1963 the Colts suffered injuries to Hall of Famers Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore and the Packers made it four in a row beating the Colts 31-20, and 34-20. The Packers finished a game back of the Bears that year, the Colts two games back.

1964 saw the Colts get healthy again and John Unitas won his second MVP award as the Colts beat the Packers twice that year and finished 12-2, two games ahead of Green Bay. The Colts were upset by the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship game, 27-0. In 1965, with the Colts leading the division, Unitas went down with a season ending injury. His replacement, highly regarded Gary Cuozzo was injured the following week and was lost for the season. This forced halfback Tom Matte, a college quarterback for Woody Hayes at Ohio State assume quarterbacking responsibilities. Matte with the plays taped to his wrist led the Colts to victory in the last game of the season 20-17 over the Rams in Los Angeles. This forced a tie between the teams at 10-3-1. The only tie breaker back then was to play another game, the Packers won the coin flip and the game was played in Green Bay.

The Colts surprised the football world by taking a 10-0 lead, the Packers fought back to make it 10-7. With four minutes remaining Packers kicker Don Chandler tried a routine game tying 22 yard field goal. As the television replay showed, the kick was clearly wide left but referee Jim Tunney signaled good. The Packers tied it on the worst documented call in NFL history and then won it on a Chandler field goal 13:39 into overtime. The Packers would go on to win another NFL Championship the next week.

In 1966 the teams were tied for the division lead with two games to play and they met in Baltimore. With a now healthy Unitas, the Colts trailed 14-10 with minutes remaining, a situation Unitas felt comfortable with. The Colts had the ball on Packer 16, on second down and five, Unitas ran up the middle which was wide open except for Packer linebacker Dave Robinson who was able to jar the ball loose from Unitas. The Packers recovered and went on to win the Division and yet another NFL championship over the Dallas Cowboys 34-27, on their way to Super Bowl One.

In 1967, the NFL changed from a two division format to four. This change moved the Packers to the Central Division and the Colts to the Coastal Division which together formed the Western Conference. In the Eastern Conference we now had the Capitol and the Century Divisions. Unitas won his third MVP award that year and the Colts were 11-0-2 going into the final game. Earlier in the season, the Colts and Packers played the last game of their legendary rivalry. In Baltimore Bart Starr led the Packers to a 10-0 lead with less than two minutes left. The greatest two minute drill quarterback of all time led the Colts to two touchdowns to win the game, the second being a pass to Willie Richardson with forty seconds remaining. The aging Packers won a weak Central Division with a 9-4-1 record. The undefeated Colts would have to play the 10-1-2 Rams to conclude the ‘67 regular season. The winner would clinch the Coastal division and a chance to play the aging Packers for the Western Conference title.

In what John Unitas called one of his worst games of his career, the Rams won 34-10. Both teams were at 11-1-2, but the tie breaker rules gave the Rams the division championship. The 11-1-2 Colts had to sit home and watch the 9-4-1 Packers play in the playoffs, which they won, defeating Roman Gabriel and the Rams 28-7. The next week the Packers beat the Cowboys in the NFL Championship again 21-17, in the “Ice Bowl” and then went on to win Super Bowl II. Lombardi retired a couple of weeks after that Super Bowl thus ending their run at the NFL Championship and ending their classic battles with the Colts. The Colts easily beat the Packers in 1968, 1969, and in 1970 but without Lombardi they were not the same team, and after moving to the AFC in 1970 the Colts and Packers played only two more times, in 1974 and 1982 before the Colts moved.

What is Baltimore football's best rivalry of all time? (Select up to 3)

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Kurt Backert

About Kurt Backert

Kurt's passion for the game began in the 60's watching the Colts on TV and at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. He began following the statistics of not only his beloved Colts but also those of the Colts opponents, with a keen eye on Vince Lombardi's Packers. His thirst for and attention to statistical detail would eventually lead Kurt on a journey to the world of fantasy football in the late 1980's where he's captured more titles than John Wooden's UCLA Bruins   Kurt carries a distinction that no other fan of the NFL can boast about.  He is the reigning NFL National Trivia Champion and he credits his Dad for passing on such passion for the game, something Kurt also hopes to pass along to his 9-year-old son. More from Kurt Backert


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