In the same way fans immediately look to see when the Ravens are taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers upon the schedule being released in late April, local media always look forward to the two — sometimes, three — weeks a year in which Baltimore takes on its biggest rival.
The press conferences are well-attended, the sound bytes more colorful, and the story lines sexier in anticipation of the best rivalry in the NFL. One of the reasons the play on the field has always felt so intense is the off-field buildup reminding you of a main event in professional wrestling.
However, this year’s opening edition of Ravens-Steelers week has lacked its normal bite with the early announcement of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being out with shoulder and rib injuries. The quotes have been innocuous and filled with respect for the opposing side, which will make head coaches John Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin happy but doesn’t exactly make for interesting pre-game coverage. The comments have gradually shifted in this direction over the last couple years, but it was never more apparent than this week.
Frankly, the week had been rather boring considering the stakes for which these sides play regularly.
That finally changed Friday with a pair of Steelers adding fuel to the fire and Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith using what else but social media to add some spice from the Baltimore side.
First, it was five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton offering his thoughts to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on why the Ravens hate Pittsburgh so much. The 35-year-old is in his 12th season with the Steelers and vividly remembers the days of Plaxico Burress and Lee Flowers exchanging venomous barbs with Chris McAlister and Shannon Sharpe.
“You know ‘hate’ is a terrible word to say,” Hampton said. “I think they hate us, though. Probably because we knock them out of the playoffs all the time. Isn’t that what they say? I’d hate us, too.”
Of course, the defensive lineman is right about the Steelers owning a 3-0 record against Baltimore in the postseason, but the manner in which he delivered the history lesson won’t sit well in the Ravens locker room.
Even more inflammatory may have been the comments made by Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis to The Baltimore Sun about second-year receiver Torrey Smith, who caught the game-winning touchdown in Pittsburgh last season. And, yes, this is a Pittsburgh defensive back who’s in his first year as a starter and has never played a meaningful role in a game against the Ravens.
“Honestly, he’s a real fast guy, but he’s not Mike Wallace,” Lewis told The Sun. “We’ve got the fastest guy in the league. Period. Every day. So when you have a guy like that you practice with, especially me in the summer time then every day in practice, I’m feeling pretty comfortable about guarding him.”
Lewis is having a strong year for the Steelers’ top-ranked pass defense, but those types of comments will make a coach cringe after remembering what Smith did in the closing seconds in Pittsburgh last November.
Whether he had been made aware of Lewis’ comments or not, Smith took to social media to offer the following tweet, which surely fired up fans from both sides.
“Oh momma I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law.”
Of course, those lyrics come from the song Renegade, which is played at Heinz Field to send Steelers fans into an absolute frenzy in what is one of the most exciting scenes in professional sports. Smith posted again roughly an hour later to clarify his previous post.
“That place goes nuts when they play that song….gotta love big games in great football environments.”
It’s a far cry from the days of the Ravens labeling Burress “Plexiglass” and Sharpe pretending he didn’t even know who Flowers was, but we finally have a little something to add to the best rivalry in the NFL when it’s renewed on Sunday night.