I might not be the elder statesman of the BTSC community, but I’m close. My football memory reaches back as far as Johnny Unitas, Sonny Jurgensen, Len Dawson and George Blanda. I remember when a game against Baltimore meant facing a quarterback from Louisiana (Bert Jones) and a running back from Penn State (Lydell Mitchell). They were Terry and Franco, only less so. The Baltimore Colts won their division three times during our glory years. But they were never a rival.
I go back far enough to remember when we had only one real rival — the Oakland Raiders. Five times in the 70s we met them in the playoffs. Twice they sent us home. Three times we sent them home. Though I admired several of their players, I had no respect for the team. They were cheaters before the Cheatriots, the “criminal element” that marred the game.
We had some tough-fought games along the way with the Cleveland Browns. But during those years, the Browns never made it to the playoffs. As such, though they were in our division, they weren’t really in our league. True rivalry was something the Browns, like today’s iteration, could only aspire to. When Art Modell packed up and moved the Browns to fill the hole left by the Colts’ departure for Indy, it was just weird at first. It only got weirder when Cleveland was awarded an expansion team not long after. How then did the rivalry come to pass?
Because the Ravens have been good. Like the Raiders of years past, how we did against the Ravens served as a bellwether for how our season would go. We’ve played them four times in the playoffs, sending them home three of those times. Of course, during that same time span, the Patriots have also been quite good, and we’ve met them a time or four in the playoffs. But that rivalry isn’t quite so intense.
Which brings us to why we respect the Ravens. They, like the Patriots, have been quite good for a long time. They, like the Patriots, have been frequent opponents come playoff time. But they, unlike the Patriots, play the kind of game that any Yinzer can respect. They play hard hitting, old-school football. You can, in fact probably should, hate big hitters like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs. But you have to give them their due. They come to play. They bring along their want. They’re a team that, like our Steelers, thrives less through technical prowess and more through a hunger to win. The Patriots are Apollo Creed — the Steelers are Rocky. But the Ravens are Clubber Lang.
The sum of the matter? We hate them because they are the Ravens. We hate them because they are the Browns. We hate them because they’ve ruined a season or three for us. But we respect them because they’re an awful lot like us — just a little bit less so. Here’s hoping on Sunday night we’ll notch the first of three victories against the Ratbirds this year.