Every great rivalry in sports involves not only the players on the field but the cities and fans across the country. We live, eat, and breathe our team year round but when it comes to playing your arch nemesis, your most hated rival, the team you despise above all else, it becomes almost personal. In fact for many it’s not almost, it is personal.
Over the years the AFC North has always been a division with great rivalries. All 4 teams are in close proximity to each other and for at least 3 of them, it’s a blue collar mentality that definitely adds to persona that is AFC North football.
Up until the last few years, literally, the Steelers vs. the Bengals or Browns have been largely one sided. Let’s face it, both of those teams have had their share of down times and still do. For the Steelers and Ravens though, this yearly battle takes on a personality of its own no matter how many times they meet. Every major sports network covers it like it’s Armageddon, using phrases like “titanic matchup”, “hatred”, “dislike”, “epic”, and pretty much any other term you can imagine.
The Players: Steelers and Ravens players will always shake hands after the game, chat, take pictures, and generally act like no matter what happens they are still friends. Such is the case with all teams in the league but make no mistake there is a serious, intense, cut throat mindset when they get on the field. Whether it’s because both of them are fighting for the division lead or to advance in the playoffs, these games mean more than just the next opponent on their schedule.
Even if some players will downplay the word “hate” when it comes playing each other, there are many that have no issues stating the obvious. Isaac Redman was asked on Thursday about the Ravens while talking to reporters: “Yeah we hate em. No love loss, we don’t like them at all. It’s a lot of hard hittin and a lot of trash talkin, it’s a battle.”
Willie Colon offers his thoughts: “It’s going to be a backyard brawl,” “That is the nature of the game. We are both the bullies of the block when it comes to this division. We are both fighting for the big picture. It’s going to be a good one.”
Statements like this are echoed across both teams’ locker rooms anytime the subject comes up. You won’t normally hear it on the media calls that the visiting team makes to the local press, but you’ll definitely hear it before and after practice each day leading up to game day.
The Fans: Talk to fans though, and you’ll generally get even more colorful analysis.We use everything from hate, despise, disgust; virtually anything you can think of. Hate might seem like a strong word but it flows freely in this type of atmosphere.
Ravens Week is the most exciting time of the year because so much is at stake but also because both cities truly cannot stand each other. Try walking through the Inner Harbor in Baltimore wearing your Steelers jersey and see what happens. Same holds true for Ravens fans walking around Station Square in Pittsburgh for example. It doesn’t matter if you’re 5 or 65, disdain for the opposition knows no age limits and has no regrets.
We make no bones about it, you come into Heinz Field wearing anything purple and you are immediately labeled the enemy and will be berated at all costs and ridiculed to no end. We don’t care why you’re here, how nice you are in everyday life, or who you have with you; on game day you are the enemy. Think we won’t butt in line for food, push you out of the way at halftime, or give you an elbow as you carry your beer back to your seat? Think again.
Walk into M&T Bank Stadium wearing your Steelers gear and you’ll get the exact same treatment, probably worse. Trust me, I know from experience as I’m sure many of you do as well, Steelers vs. Ravens is not for the faint of heart. Fans are perfectly willing to throw caution to the wind and stretch the limits of the rules to make a point. Of the times I’ve been to Baltimore to see the Steelers play I’ve witnessed multiple fan ejections each time and a multitude of foul play in the concourse area and restrooms.
Think it’s just the men doing this after a few beers have been consumed? Hardly, the female fans and even the children get into it. Call it “family” event, although I would use that term loosely in this context.
Oh sure, there are always those that will get along, or at least be somewhat cordial to each other but by in large you prepare for the worse and hope it doesn’t come to that.
Watch social media during a week like this and you can see references for anything and everything related to why both teams fans’ dislike each other so much. Pictures, videos, articles, people swapping stories on Twitter and Facebook, it’s everywhere.
Honestly, I’m not saying this type of behavior is justified, but it goes on nonetheless and you’d be a fool to think otherwise. Sports brings out the craziness in everyone and when it comes to rivalries like Steelers vs. Ravens, anything can happen.
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