This week two hated division rivals meet in the AFC Playoffs, and America couldn’t be more excited. Any time you have two teams from third-tier downtrodden decaying industrial cities playing low-scoring, all-defense football while led by obnoxious scumbags, America takes notice. Especially with such high stakes: the winner earns the right to get drop-kicked into oblivion by non-scumbag Tom Brady and the New England Patriots the following week.
Here at Hamsterdam we happen to be blessed with the presence of a Steelers fan and two Ravens fans. In this piece, I’m going to present them with the opportunity to be civil and gracious to one another. They’ll break down the matchup, both footballing and non-, in an attempt to determine which team better represents criminal athletes, nubs public transportation, air pollution, quarterbacks that look like Muppets, and not being as good as the Patriots. So let’s get it on!
Probably a scumbag, actually.
On The Cities
Nineninety (Steelers fan): Steel hasn’t been manufactured in Pittsburgh for like 40 years. Our biggest industries now are healthcare, technology, and putting coleslaw on sandwiches. But even though we don’t toil away in the steel mills anymore, we still very much have a blue collar, lunch pail attitude here. And I think it is reflected not just in the passion we have for the Steelers, but in the way we go about rooting for them. We wear Steelers jerseys to important family functions, to church, and to work (not just on casual Fridays). We call in, and subsequently get banned from, the local talk radio stations to complain that the team isn’t playing “Steeler football” when the offensive coordinator dares running a few trick plays. We wave our Terrible Towels and make noise even when we’re on offense for some reason. In other cities they’d probably look down on people who wear their Lynn Swann jersey to a fancy steakhouse. But in Pittsburgh there is actually a reverse-elitism in effect.
strO (Ravens fan): The Ravens are a fairly new team. We don’t have a ton of history and our last team left in the middle of the night. That sucks. What’s awesome is that we have an awesome team now, have had an awesome team for basically the last decade, and show no signs of not being awesome in the future. We’ve sold out every game we’ve ever had. Downtown buildings are lit up purple when the Ravens are in the playoffs. This town is crazy for football. Of course, being a fairly new team people accuse us of having a lot of bandwagon fans. They say all of our fans are white trash from Dundalk that wear purple camo pants (I don’t understand why this is an insult) and used to be Redskins fans (no fucking way). They make jokes about murder and drugs and STDs. They say our star player is a murderer and our leading rusher was a drug dealer and one of our free agents killed a guy driving drunk. ATTENTION WORLD: WE DON’T CARE. All we know is that we will kick your ass up and down the field. Come to our stadium and we’ll sack your quarterback, knock your running back out of the game, return picks for touchdowns, and shove your fans into urinals (jk?). We’ll go to your stadium in the playoffs and send you home crying after another Ravens road victory. We know our city and our team and our players aren’t perfect, but on Sundays we look pretty damn good, and that’s all that really matters when it comes to football.
On The Rivalry, Past
Nineninety: The rivalry started for me in 2000. It wasn’t that the Ravens won the Super Bowl, it was winning the Super Bowl on the back of an incredible defense that many regarded as the best of all time. That was supposed to be our thing. We were the team with the Steel Curtain heritage, we had the defensive coordinator who innovated the zone blitz. So for another team to assume the mantle of “best defense in the league” was an affront to everything the Steelers stood for.
fhryew (Ravens fan): My first memory of the Steelers is a game from the first few (awful) years of the Ravens where they jumped out to a big lead at Memorial Stadium only get to daggered by Kordell Stewart in the second half and choke away a huge lead. Of course I was 10 at the time, so there’s a good chance that never actually happened.
My favorite memory is the 2006 sweep, where the Ravens won by a combined 58-7 despite being underdogs in both games. Also, in the first of those games, this happened:
Most respected player on other team:
nineninety: I love watching Ed Reed play. The intensity, the way he always seems to be in the right place at the right time, and the way he loves ill-advised laterals. He’s also never killed anyone so far as we know.
fhyrew: For a while it was accepted gospel among my Ravens fan friends that Troy Polamalu was the most overrated player in football. While I still think announcers sometimes go out of their ways to praise him for the wrong things, yeah, the guy is pretty damn good at football. He’s a big-time football player who loves playing football and makes big football plays in big football games. And he seems like a pleasant, soft-spoken guy, not a dick or a scumbag like his teammates. Of course, he’s still a dick and a scumbag by association, but it’s not his fault.
strO: Not a player, but I’m going with Mike Tomlin. He’s pretty fucking bad ass. He doesn’t talk trash, he doesn’t complain, he doesn’t really do anything that you can hate him for. Plus, he looks so legit. Nothing seems to faze him and he always seems to be in total control of his emotions. The moment is never too big for him. Plus, my girlfriend thinks he’s hot.
“You know what the trouble is, Terrence Cody? We used to make shit in this country, build shit. Now we just eat giant sandwiches that will cause our hearts to explode.” — Frank Sobotka (roughly)
When the Steelers have the ball
Nineninety: “Steelers football” is all about running the ball right up the gut of the other team. But against the Ravens it is all on Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens run defense is usually too stout to get the running game going, and Roethlisberger seems to elevate his game when he is going against the Ravens. The Steelers will live and die on Roethlisberger’s arm on Saturday. It has been so long since Roethlisberger lost a game to the Ravens that the last time it happened he was only a rumored scumbag. It has been so long since Roethlisberger lost a game to the Ravens that the last time it happened Donte Stallworth was known for his drag route on the field rather than the highway. It has been so long since Roethlisberger lost a game to the Ravens that the last time it happened Michael Oher was still illiterate.
fhryew: This game will really come down to a handful of plays when the Ravens get a free rusher or two to Big Ben. If the Ravens can bring him down a decent percentage of the time or cause a fumble or two, they’ll win. If they let him escape and make throws into broken coverage, they’ll lose.
When the Ravens have the ball
Nineninety: Troy Polamalu has to be in Joe Flacco’s head at this point, right? I think Troy is going to have his hands full covering Todd Heap, but I expect HOF Dick Lebeau to have the Samoan Missile moving around as much as possible before the snap to make sure Flacco is preoccupied with his whereabouts at all times.
strOterp: When the Ravens have the ball against the Steelers, I basically dread every single play. I expect every sack to force a fumble, I expect every pass to be intercepted, and I hold my breath until the ball carrier hits the ground with the ball in his hands. So pretty much, don’t turn it over and avoid disaster.
On the Pirates v. Orioles
[Ed. note — Umm, nevermind]
An X-Factor in Saturday’s matchup
Nineninety: Emmanuel Sanders. Losing Santonio Holmes in the offseason was a huge blow to our offense, but in the late parts of this season Sanders has developed into one of Roethlisberger’s favorite weapons. The Ravens have to worry so much about the huge vertical pass to Mike Wallace or the cheap shot from Hines Ward that it might allow the rookie Sanders to make some big plays.
fhryew: Billy Cundiff and Shaun Suisham (plus their respective snappers and holders). In a game this close where every yard will be paid for in blood, neither of these teams can afford to pass the other’s 30 and not come away with points. Heinz is the toughest place in the league for kickers, so this game could very well turn on Cundiff or Suisham leaving points on the field. Also note that the Ravens are still adjusting to a new long snapper, and Sam Koch did a great job of handling some wild snaps last week (credit to my friend Ryan and Football Outsiders for noticing that wrinkle).
I think Antoine Dodson has some thoughts about this picture.
On the winner’s Super Bowl chances
Nineninety: The Patriots are a huge roadblock because Tom Brady has been treating defenses like they’re a vulnerable girl in a Milledgeville, Georgia bathroom. But if either the Steelers or the Ravens can find a way to win in Foxboro I think they should be handle whatever the NFC has to offer.
strOterp: We should have beaten the Pats’ ass earlier in the season, but we really let up in the second half (IN NO WAY A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME). If somehow, some way, the Jets manage to knock off the Pats and the Ravens win, we would host the AFC Championship Game. I’m not sure if that would be a good thing because there’s a decent chance this city would explode. I’m not even going to discuss the NFC.
Nineninety: The Ravens will have the lead late, but Roethlisberger will manufacture yet another game-winning drive to send the Steelers to the AFC championship. Steelers 28 Ravens 24
fhryew: I’m setting myself up for another dagger here, but I think this is the time for the Ravens to get the Steelers playoff monkey off their backs. Flacco earns his stripes in a 20-17 Ravens victory.
strOterp: I hate that I have to do this. But fhryew is on to something. It just feels like this is our chance. Our time is running out. Ravens 16-13.