A rivalry by definition is: competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field. The root word is rival, which can mean considering another individual an "equal" or a "peer".
By definition, we have all experienced our own rivalries in one form or another. It is in no way only limited to athletic competition. There can be many forms of rivalries; like work, sibling, and business to name a few.
Not all rivalries are created equally, as some are considered friendly while others are extremely personal. Like when two gentlemen are interested in courting the same young lady, those instances seldom end amicably.
Sports rivalries are some of the best known examples, and elicits some of the most passionate responses. Every MLB fan instantly thinks New York Yankees/Boston Red Sox Sox when the subject of rivalry is brought up. The Boston Celtics/Los Angles Lakers rivalry is the stuff of legend and documentaries.
In the modern day NFL, free agency and the salary cap has negatively impacted many of the league's oldest and most passionate rivalries. The frequency of player movement, often to a rival franchise, has diminished the loathing for longtime participants who at one time were recognized as the face of the rivalry. Numbers on a contract often trump loyalty and legacy for some players, but not every player. Some players will walk away from the game before putting on another uniform, especially a hated rival.
In today's NFL, no rivalry compares to the Steelers/Ravens. Names like Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, and Jerome Bettis represents the Steelers that Ravens fans love to hate, while Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs elicits a similar response from Steelers Nation. None of these players would be caught dead in the other teams uniform.
There are three undeniable truths that must exist in any rivalry: the games must be competitive, the games must mean something, and there has to be mutual respect from the players and fanbases.
That's why I believe the Steelers/Ravens rivalry is the best in the NFL today. These two teams have basically owned the division for the past two decades. The Cincinnati Bengals have tried on occasion to throw their hats in the ring, but they are a franchise that lacks leadership and character. They seemingly can't understand that you have to show respect to receive it. You can't demand it if you ain't willing to earn it.
Both the Steelers and the Ravens despise the other, but you better believe both franchises respect the heck out of the other. Both franchises have enjoyed incredible stability, from the top down. Former longtime GM Ozzie Newsome has been with the team in some capacity his whole NFL career, first as a legendary Cleveland Browns tight end and then as an executive as the Browns relocated the franchise to Baltimore in 1996. Ozzie stepped down as GM after the 2018 season, into his new Executive Vice President position. He has helped build two Super Bowl championship teams, and is well respected around the NFL.
Both teams have enjoyed incredible stability at Head Coach. The Steelers three head coaches over the past fifty years is unmatched in league history, but the Ravens have only had three head coaches since their relocation in 1996. Steelers HC Mike Tomlin was hired in 2007, with Ravens HC John Harbaugh hired the following season. Apparently there is something to this whole coaching stability thing.
These two franchises are far more similar than they are different. In a league where the idea of playing defense is more of a suggestion than a commitment, both the Steelers and Ravens invest plenty of time and finances to that side of the ball. Both teams strive to be more physical than their opponents, to be the bully on the block if you will. In an era where smash mouth football is becoming a thing of the past, these teams are dinosaurs.
The rivalry is alive and well, thanks to the veterans of the rivalry helping to endocrine the newcomers on the importance of every victory, and to help prepare them for the most physical football game of their career.
The next chapter will be written this Sunday at 1:00 in Baltimore. Hopefully it has a happy ending for the Steelers.