Steelers Notebook: Cotchery experienced in rivalry now and Gradkowski tells defensive line to beat up his kid brother

Jared Wickerham

Steelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery says the Steelers/Ravens rivalry is all he thought it would be and more. Bruce Gradkowski sent a message to his team's defensive lineman, giving them permission to beat up his little brother - the Ravens starting center.

PITTSBURGH -- Linebacker Terrell Suggs said this week that the rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and his Baltimore Ravens is still the fiercest in the NFL, even though neither team has a winning record so far this season.

The Steelers are 1-4, coming off their first win, while the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens aren't much better at 3-3. The two rosters also are markedly different from the ones that battled a few years ago to identical 12-4 records.

"I don't think the records really matter, for the simple fact that in the past we both have played each other where either one team was rolling and one wasn't, but it didn't matter," Suggs said. "It's Ravens-Steelers. This game, the whole NFL will be watching, because there is not a rivalry in football like this game."

Steelers wideout Jerricho Cotchery has seen the rivalry from both sides.

"I knew from the outside-in what type of matchup it was, the physicality of it and what was at stake every time that game came around," Cotchery said. "And now that I've been a part of it, I can tell you that it's everything I thought it was and more. And it's always going to be a big rivalry."

The Steelers and Ravens meet again Sunday at 4:25 p.m. at Heinz Field, but for the first time the rivalry will go a little deeper than Black and Gold versus Purple and White. It's going to pit brother against brother.

The Gradkowskis from Pittsburgh suburb Dormont are represented by backup quarterback Bruce with the Steelers and starting center Gino with the Ravens. Bruce said the two spoke Monday night, as Gino called his brother's local radio show for a quick gab session. The two won't talk again until after the game.

"Yeah, we talked early on in the week, and I told him that I need this one," Bruce said Thursday. "But I'm proud of him for what he's done and what he's been through. It's hard enough to get into this league, but to sustain it and be successful is a great accomplishment.

"And for him to be the starting center for the Ravens, I'm very proud of him. But since we're playing them this week, I'm telling Ziggy Hood, Cam (Heyward) and Brett Keisel, 'You have to get after him. I don't care that he's my little brother, you need to beat up on him this week.' So, we'll see what happens."

The two played against each other for the first time in the NFL when Bruce was a backup for the Cincinnati Bengals, and Gino was a backup with the Ravens.

"This makes it exciting and special, and I'm fortunate to be able to play against him again this year," Bruce said. "But it's the Steelers-Ravens rivalry, and that's what makes it unique and special. So, this just adds a little more fuel to the fire, being that my younger brother is down there in Baltimore. So, I'm definitely excited for this week."

The same probably isn't true for Gradkowski's parents, who are torn when their sons are on opposite sides. At least they won't actually be playing against each other, even if Bruce gets into the game, because both Gradkowski brothers are offensive players. The Gradkowski family will be easy to spot in the stands.

"They'll all be wearing black and gold," Bruce said. "My family was born and raised here in Pittsburgh, and they're true fans. But Gino knows that. He knows that he lost the family now, but my mom and dad will be cheering for both.

"My mom always has to root for both of us, and that's why parents are so great. But I know my wife and all our cousins will have their black and gold gear on and will be going strong.''

Bruce recalled owning a Franco Harris No. 32 jersey in his youth, but he would not comment on Gino's uniform preference as a kid.

"I had the full outfit with a helmet, and there's a picture of me and my dad in the backyard playing," Bruce said. "But growing up in Pittsburgh, you have to be a Pittsburgh fan. You have no choice, and that's why I'm so glad to be back. (And) I told Gino that I was going to call Harbaugh and tell him that Gino still has a bunch of Steelers gear in his bedroom back home."

Bruce noted that he probably was his younger brother's favorite player as a youth, but added that he was unaware of which Steelers player he admired.

"Well, there's a six-year difference between us, so I was always bigger and stronger, as well as being older, but he kept growing and developing and became a big, strong guy," Bruce said. "I remember one time when I tried to wrestle him, and I finally realized that he was a little to strong now.

"That's probably when I was a rookie in the NFL, and he was getting ready to go to college. I still could kick his butt now, but you've got to be smarter. You know, I always wanted it to come easier for him. I've gone through the process and wanted to help him out along the way as much as possible.

"So, he was a fourth-round draft pick with a great organization," Bruce added. "He had the opportunity last year to learn from Matt Birk, a great center with the Ravens for a long time and a true pro, so it was nice for him to learn from him and be a starter this year."

When the game ends and the players take the field, the two brothers likely will meet near the middle.

"When I was in Cincy, I was fortunate enough to get a picture with him after the game," Bruce said. "We'll see if we can get one this week at Heinz Field with our uniforms on. Maybe I'll give him my jersey. I can tell him that I know he really wants a Steelers jersey. I'm sure he'd like that."

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