I guess it had to come to this.
While the rivalry between my beloved Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers has always been one surrounded by tough talk and tougher men, the two games between the division rivals this regular season appeared to take the hatred and competitiveness to a whole new level. There was talk of Ravens players putting out “bounties” on some of the Steelers players, a controversial call to end one of the games and an overtime thriller played before a national audience.
While the classic games between the New England Patriots and Indiannapolis Colts have been the marquee matchups in the NFL over the past several years, it would be hard to argue that the wars between the Steelers and Ravens have been the most physical and acrimonius.
And they battle each other on Sunday for the right to play in the Super Bowl.
This certainly raises the stakes a little bit. I heard a talking head on the radio the other day suggest that the opening kick-off might feature a fight between players, and that the confrontations will probably continue until the final whistle. But that would surprise me. There’s just too much at stake for both teams to risk penalties that could ultimately decide the game in a match-up of the top two defenses in the NFL.
No, what I’d forecast is a battle of hard hits and conservative strategy. A punt in this game is a good thing. A tough penalty or turnover could spell doom for the offending team.
But that’s on the field.
The casual fan at home wants to see this grudge match erupt in a barrage of trash-talking monsters taking out their frustrations and rage on the other team. Make no mistake about it, I respect the Steelers. I think they have a hard-charging coach who readies his players every game, a tough quarterback who leaves every ounce of his heart on the field each week and a defense that absolutely swarms to the ball and makes many NFL quarterbacks spend their evenings sucking their thumbs in the fetal position.
But I do hate these guys.
Last weekend, after the Ravens had advanced with a tough — and perhaps, lucky — win over the Tennessee Titans on Saturday, I found myself pulling hard for the Steelers to win on Sunday. I was saddened when the San Diego Chargers scored first to take the lead, and was cheering loudly when the Steelers put the game away late.
I wanted Pittsburgh.
Of course, the hardest road for my Ravens to advance to the Super Bowl indeed goes through Pittsburgh, but, that’s ok, too. It’s about the journey in the NFL. And there’s no better marker for the Ravens than Pittsburgh.
Plus, I have a lot of friends who are Steelers fans.
That, in itself, makes this a fun game for the dashing bald editor of your community newspaper. I currently have bets out on the game with my personal stakes ranging from 25 cents to a crab cake to having to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper in western Pennsylvania citing the greatness of the Steelers, and the faults of my Ravens.
But this is what makes sports so much fun for those of us who consider a remote control and a bag of chips our athletic equipment. It’s weird how things change over the course of one’s lifetime. For years, I spent my weekends with helmets, cups and cleats. Now, I spend them with T-shirts, pork rinds and the ultimate hard decision of drinking domestic or imported beer. I’m guessing that in another 20 years I’ll be choosing between ...
But I digress.
This is about my Ravens and the hated Steelers. It’s about payback for the team from Baltimore, and the opportunity to prove complete dominance for the Pittsburgh squad.
It’s about one team winning the game that matters the most this season, and one team grasping for ways to take down the other next year. It’s about the fight for precious yards in a game that will most likely come down to field position and a few big plays, and about which players can maintain their composure and focus more on execution than playing the role of executioner.
And, ultimately, it’s about the fans at home.
Strap in and enjoy this one. While the Super Bowl is indeed the game that crowns a champion, this is the game that decides the bully on the block. Go Ravens.