PITTSBURGH – From Hines Ward to Ray Lewis to James Harrison and Ed Reed, many of the stars that helped make the Steelers vs. the Ravens one of the NFL’s most heated rivalries are now gone.
In fact, both teams had plenty of turnover in the offseason. The Steelers currently have 21 players on their roster who were not with them in 2012. The Ravens have 20.
The veterans who remain are spending the week leading up to the first meeting this season between the Steelers (1-4) and Ravens (3-3) Sunday at Heinz Field giving the many new faces on each roster a crash course in what the rivalry means.
“A little bit,” said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “Not to just pull every rookie aside and say something, but my locker is next to Markus (Wheaton), and I’ll say something to certain guys just to be ready for a big game.”
Since the NFL switched to its current divisional formats in 2002, the Steelers and Ravens have not just dominated the AFC North, winning the division nine of 11 times, they’ve also been two of the best teams in the NFL.
The two have combined to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl five times, winning four of those, since 2000 and made it to the AFC Championship four other times.
That overall excellence has made for some classic battles between the two AFC heavyweights and has created not only a lot of respect between the two, but some hatred as well.
“We hate them and they hate us,” said Steelers offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum.
This season hasn’t worked out the same way. Though the Ravens are the defending Super Bowl champions, this will be the first time since October of 2002 that the Steelers and Ravens have met without at least one of them having a winning record.
Despite that – and at least a little bit of hatred – there’s plenty of respect between the two as well, at least between two of the longtime leaders, Roethlisberger and Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs.
“We’ve had some conversations that haven’t been on TV and have been in the field of play,” Suggs said. “There’s a tremendous amount of mutual respect there, but I think we both know that we are each other’s opponent, but even opponents can show respect.”
Roethlisberger said that respect is borne from the efforts each puts forth in trying to beat the other.
“For me, and I think if you asked him he’d say the same thing; it’s genuine respect,” Roethlisberger said. “I respect him. I respect the way he plays the game. He plays it hard, he plays it physical, but he also respects the players. If he hits you and he hits you hard, he’s going to love it but he wants to make sure you’re okay because he wants you to keep playing, because he wants to keep hitting you.”
And that’s what veterans are trying to drive home to the new players on each team. If they’re not ready to play in this game from the opening kickoff, they might end up looking out of the earhole of their helmet.
“As soon as that ball is kicked off, if there’s one guy who is sleeping on just exactly what this game means to both teams and both cities, then they’re going to learn really fast,” said Suggs. “The cast is not the same on both teams. There’s no Ray Lewis, no Ed Reed, no Hines Ward and no James Harrison. It’s going to be a little different. But at the end of the day it’s a football game. It’s a rivalry football game and both teams are going to go out there and play.”
Odds and end zones
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown leads the AFC averaging 99.6 receiving yards per game. Baltimore’s Torrey Smith is second at 94.7. … Steelers tight end Heath Miller needs one touchdown catch to become the fifth player in team history to have 40 in his career. … Suggs has 13.5 career sacks against the Steelers, his second-best total against any team.