Ravens on their perch in Pittsburgh

One of the fiercest rivalries in sport is intensified as Baltimore arrive to play the Steelers as Super Bowl champions.

    Ravens on their perch in Pittsburgh
    Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has a word with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at Heinz Field [AP]

    The last time the Baltimore Ravens got off a flight in Pittsburgh with Super Bowl rings on their fingers, there's a chance that some Steelers fans – but only some – were secretly quite pleased for them.

    Not now.

    When Terrell Suggs, Ray Rice and Joe Flacco felt the Pennsylvania rain spitting on their faces on Sunday morning, they knew a colder reception was waiting for them at Heinz Field later.

    This rivalry has its roots in ancient NFL history. But the modern version has burnt more fiercely in the years since Baltimore won their first Super Bowl in 2000.

    That's last year. I don't even acknowledge their Super Bowl win.

    Steelers fan Phil Flaherty

    Baltimore's second triumph, against the San Francisco 49ers in February, gives them bragging rights as fans in black, white and purple show up in Pennsylvania for this AFC North showdown. And if there's anyone that Steelers fans hate to hear crowing, it's the Ravens.

    Especially when Pittsburgh, with their record of six Super Bowl wins, are 1-4 in the 2013 season, having got their first win against the New York Jets last week after their worst start since 1968.

    "Oh man – terrible," lifelong Steelers fan Phil Flaherty, 33, told Al Jazeera when asked how he felt about Baltimore being in his town as champions.

    "But that's last year. I don't even acknowledge their Super Bowl win.

    "The whole town is a little shell-shocked from just losing. We're not used to it. Normally I'm so overly confident and have such intense hatred for the Ravens. I can't stand them, but now I'm kinda shaken."

    Back in 2000, the Ravens were still a fairly "new" team in the NFL, having been transplanted from Cleveland where they used to play as the Browns – the Steelers' rivals of old.

    Real deal

    "It's different," Phil says of the last time Baltimore were champs.

    "Back then I felt bad for Cleveland and Baltimore. You felt one city got robbed and the same had happened to Baltimore years before, so from a football perspective it was good to see a team back there.

    "But the fact they won so quickly, it was, 'ok here's a team in our division that's the real deal'. And the matchup has been so brutal since then."

    It got especially brutal in Pittsburgh's most recent golden era, as they won two Super Bowls and reached another in the first decade of the new millennium.

    On the field it was typified by incidents such as the one when Suggs said in a radio interview that the Ravens defense had bounties on the heads of former Steelers running-back Rashard Mendenhall and iconic wide receiver Hines Ward.

    Ward retired last year after 14 seasons in black and yellow, as did the Ravens' equally iconic linebacker Ray Lewis.

    "I think nowadays the fans hate each other more than the teams do," Dave Bryan, 45, who edits the Steelers Depot blog from his home in Florida, told Al Jazeera.

    "A lot of the players who made this rivalry so good are not in the NFL any more – it's become watered down.

    The fans, they still go at each other. These teams can both be 0-5 or 0-6 and it would be the Super Bowl for them."

    Neither team is where they want to be in the AFC North right now.

    Kick start

    The Steelers need the old Ben Roethlisberger back after the quarterback's mediocre start, while rushing yards, turnovers and touchdowns have been in short supply as they sit bottom of the four teams in the division. It was left to kicker Shaun Suisham to provide most of the points in last week's 19-6 win over the Jets.

    Flacco led Baltimore to the Super Bowl last year [GALLO/GETTY]

    Baltimore, in second behind the Cincinnati Bengals, come into this game with a 3-3 record, and with questions over the $120.6 million, six-year contract given to Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco – who does at least get acknowledgement from some quarters for his efforts in the playoffs last season.

    "Being a blogger and around it as long as I have, it's more of a respect thing," Dave said of the rivalry with Baltimore.

    "Flacco had a remarkable postseason. I think they overpaid him and they’re going to suffer – he's not as elite as they think he is. But you can't take away what he did."

    Just to butt into my own article, I've seen Flacco damage Pittsburgh in this game before, having been at Heinz Field when he threw the winning touchdown pass in the last seconds in November 2011.

    I'm also going to have to confess at this point that no Baltimore fans answered my calls for an interview for this piece. Maybe they saw me in the Steelers bleachers that evening.

    But if there's any Ravens story you should read today, it's this one right here.

    There's another story waiting to be written on Sunday night.

    Paul Rhys is a sports correspondent and presenter writing for Al Jazeera from Paris. Follow him on @PaulRhys_Sport or go to paulrhys.com.

    Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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