Bitter rival Baltimore adds to atmosphere

With members of the anniversary team looking on and a national TV audience watching, the Steelers will don their throwback uniforms and play some old-school football vs. the Ravens

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Larry Foote's bid on a photo in a silent auction last week won him the prize: A plaque with a picture of Jack Ham, Jack Lambert and Andy Russell together in the Steelers locker room, signed by all three.

He paid "more than three figures" and will display it in a prominent spot in his home.

Tonight, old Steelers legends come to life and Foote and his teammates do not want to disappoint them when they play the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field.

They will wear their throwback uniforms for the second time this season and likely play old-school football against their archnemesis as the top two defenses in the NFL turn out: The No. 1 Steelers and No. 2 Ravens.

The Steelers' 75th anniversary team will be presented in ceremonies at halftime and video clips of them will be shown throughout the game.

"There's a sense of special feeling with all the guys who played before us, the great 75th anniversary team, the all-Steelers team," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "It's going to be a special moment, there's going to be a special atmosphere in that stadium on Monday night."

Most every living member of the 33-man team will be here, including the expected arrival of Terry Bradshaw and Jerome Bettis, who could not make the celebration last night at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center because of their television duties.

"We look at it as we have been scheduled for their homecoming," Baltimore coach Brian Billick said.

"We know it is going to be a very emotional night, not like it needs more -- it is Pittsburgh and Baltimore on a Monday night. You think that would be enough. But obviously with what they are honoring and obviously the story and fabulous history should be a fabulous night."

Some of those from the franchise's all-time team will take the field tonight. Ward, safety Troy Polamalu and guard Alan Faneca are on the 33-man team. Ward, for one, believes the homecoming analogy is a good one, because, like Foote, he wants to impress the alumni. He wants to show he belongs with the likes of Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, whose records he's breaking bit by bit.

"I would love to impress Mr. Stallworth and Swann, to go out there and put on a great show," Ward said. "You always want to do that because these guys are well-respected in Steelers Nation. Everybody looks up to them, and you want to make a name for yourself so when they're driving home they say 'you know what, that ballplayer is pretty good, I really respect him.'

"I want to see some of the older guys come back and I want to put on a great show for them."

They've done so on similar occasions in the past.

In 1999, the Steelers celebrated the 25th anniversary of their first Super Bowl season with many of the players from that team. The Steelers won only two games in Three Rivers Stadium that 6-10 season, but that was one of them, 13-9 on Monday night against Atlanta.

They beat the Colts, 28-10, the night they honored Terry Bradshaw on his first return since his playing days, in 2002. They topped the Seahawks this year, 21-0, when Chuck Noll was honored. They beat the Bengals, 16-7, in the first game played at Heinz Field in 2001.

The previous biggest celebration of all occurred on Dec. 16, 2000. It was the last game played in Three Rivers Stadium. After that game, the Steelers would hold a long ceremony in which they introduced many of those who played in the 31 seasons of Three Rivers. But first, the Steelers had to play the Washington Redskins.

"I know when we closed Three Rivers down, that was a big point," Faneca said. "We didn't want to end it with a loss. Everybody knew about the celebration afterward. It would have been a little bit different of a mood if we had lost that game."

They went out and took care of business, thrashing the Redskins, 24-3.

They hope to do the same tonight against a determined opponent. At 5-2, the Steelers lead the Ravens (4-3) by one game in the AFC North Division, which makes tonight a pivotal one for both clubs.

"The most exciting part is we know that this is a love/hate relationship with the Steelers," wrote the best player in Baltimore's brief franchise history, linebacker Ray Lewis, on his blog. "We respect them, but we don't sit well with Pittsburgh and they don't sit well with us.

"It's a nasty ballgame, and that's why I said there's no better team than to go in and do it the way we're going in to do it. All the pressure's on them, it's their house, they are favored and it's Monday Night Football. ... The nation is watching."


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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