Every NFL fanatic has an offseason routine. When our team’s season ends (for Panther fans, this process started when “Matt Moore” and “starting quarterback” were uttered in the same sentence) we start looking at potential free agent pick-ups. We start watching college football games like recruiters and critique everything a player does because we know he has a chance to be drafted to our team. And we also wait for the NFL to release the forthcoming year’s schedule. Once it’s out, we skim through it like homework we don’t want to do and look for key words: @ New England, vs. New Orleans. But for every Baltimore and Pittsburgh fan we look for two dates first and base our entire season around it.
When Baltimore’s schedule was released, I was perusing schedule and saw “Week 4, @ Pittsburgh” and “Week 13 vs. Pittsburgh,” and then started guessing what the Ravens’ record would be in both meetings, trying to figure how important each would be. But I then realized, who cares? Every game between the Ravens and the Steelers is huge.
Back in 2007, Baltimore had an awful season. Started 4-2, lost eight straight — including an overtime loss to the 1-15 Dolphins that year — and then Pittsburgh came to town. The Steelers were well on their way to the playoffs and the Ravens had nothing left to play for. But, it was the Steelers. Our record didn’t matter at the time. It didn’t matter that Troy Smith was starting the game as a rookie. All that mattered was that Baltimore won; if Baltimore wins, and the Ravens finish with five wins and I’m somewhat satisfied. And Baltimore won.
It was in 2005 that I fully understood the significance of this rivalry. Back then, Steelers fans loved Roethlisberger. He was a fat kid out of a mid-major conference who had a knack for winning. Again, the Ravens were having a rough season due to injuries and Kyle Boller and had to travel to Pittsburgh on a Monday night. I thought for sure Baltimore was going to get blown out. But they didn’t. The game came down to a late field goal by Jeff Reed, who still made them back then, and Baltimore lost 20-19.
It didn’t matter that Ray Lewis didn’t play that game. It didn’t matter that Kyle Boller was Kyle Boller. It was just Ravens vs. Steelers. This rivalry has always been about the teams, not specific players. When the Pats play the Colts each year it’s more Brady vs. Manning than it is Pats vs. Colts. When the Ravens play the Steelers, it’s about hard hits, strong defense, genuine hatred and field goals.
Tonight’s game is no different. It’s huge. Division supremacy is at stake. Money is at stake if you’re gambling or James Harrison. The winner will be sitting atop the AFC North with the playoffs in sight. The loser will have to rebound quickly, forget about the loss and look to next week because Wild Card spots aren’t guaranteed.
It’s games like these that make me think Vince McMahon has successfully taken over the world and scripts everything he can. You couldn’t ask for a better plot: two 8-3 teams that loath each other, a primetime game in December and there might even be some snow. It’s going to be the best game of the week because it’s the best rivalry in football. I don’t care what any Redskins or Cowboys fan says. Nothing beats a Ravens-Steelers game.
Tonight is going to feel like a playoff game. The atmosphere is going be incredible. It’s such a big game, I passed up a free ticket to the Maryland-Temple basketball game tonight. I don’t know what’s going to happen or who’s going to win but I do know it’s going to set the stage for the rest of season, not just for Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but the entire AFC.
I don’t think the outcome of tonight’s game will force any Ravens or Steelers fan to start the offseason routine early, but I do know that UCLA safety Rahim Moore or Utah corner Brandon Burton would be a great addition to the Ravens’ secondary. And Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi or Florida guard Mike Pouncey could help Pittsburgh’s offensive line problems. Just a few observations.