Once upon a time, this was known around here as Ravens Week, a game between the Steelers and their most heated rivals that would take on a playoff atmosphere.
Sometimes it was better, like when Joey Porter chased after the Baltimore Ravens bus because he felt Ray Lewis had mocked him by portraying Porter's "boot" after a sack -- this while Porter watched from the sideline after getting shot in the posterior the previous week. Or former Steeler Rod Woodson going crazy because Hines Ward had the audacity to throw a block on him. Or the time Bart Scott said he hit Ben Roethlisberger so hard he could hear the air rush out of him.
Oh, those were the days. But those days are gone, and today's "rivalry" sounds like an attempt by some to keep the thing alive while the passion ebbs. As Douglas MacArthur might have said, "Old rivalries never die, they just fade away."
These two proud franchises limp into this game not only without winning records for at least one of them for the first time since 2002 (other than season openers), but without the characters and even the identities long associated with both teams.
It still may be an important game for each because the 1-4 Steelers want to maintain some relevance for 2013 and the 3-3 Ravens want to avoid that famous Super Bowl hangover the Steelers encountered in 2006 and 2009. But there is no more Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Hines Ward, James Harrison, Casey Hampton and their ilk. The Ravens do have Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata to get the Steelers' blood flowing, and surely the presence of Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark and LaMarr Woodley can stir some Ravens ire.
"It's the Baltimore Ravens vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers, not Ray Lewis vs., say, Hines Ward," insists William Gay. "It's the team vs. the team, so the feeling is still there."
Sorry, not buying it.
Once, the Steelers' biggest rivals were the Cleveland Browns. That faded when the Browns became irrelevant and the Steelers kept beating them. Tunch Ilkin, who basked in that rivalry when he played tackle for the Steelers, saw it switch more toward Houston and the Oilers. Later, it was the Jacksonville Jaguars who became the Steelers most bitter rivals.
Add this fact: 19 players on the Steelers roster and 18 on the Ravens roster will be introduced to this rivalry for the first time today. For them, it's probably just another game.
"I don't think they have a clue," Antonio Brown said of his young teammates. "We have to do a good job explaining it to them, but there's nothing like firsthand experience."
At least, there's that reigning Super Bowl champion thing the Ravens have going to keep the Steelers' attention. The Steelers are 4-6 in this century playing the reigning Super Bowl champs, including a victory against the New York Giants last season.
"When I was at BYU, it was Utah,'' Brett Keisel said of his college rivals. "This Steelers-Ravens rivalry is a whole lot bigger, a whole lot meaner and a whole lot nastier. It's a grudge match."
That's a good history lesson, but it may not fit what's going on today at Heinz Field.
Could'ves and should'ves
The Steelers bypassed Alabama halfback Eddie Lacy in order to draft Michigan State halfback Le'Veon Bell in the second round. The Packers then chose Lacy. The jury still has plenty of time to come to a verdict on which of those two backs will be the better pro.
Other choices the two teams made in the fourth round of the draft this year may be more debatable.
Lacy ran for 120 yards last week for Green Bay against the Baltimore defense that Bell will try to tee up today. The Packers starting tackles blocking for him were also eminently available to the Steelers, including one in their backyard. Not only do they block for Lacy, they protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is third in the NFC with a 101.9 passer rating.
The Packers lost their fine starting left tackle in the preseason, Bryan Bulaga, to an injury. Did they trade for a washed-up former high draft pick to replace him? No, they plugged in rookie David Bakhtiari, a fourth-round draft pick. Bakhtiari is 6 feet 4 and 300 pounds. He has started all five games for the 3-2 Packers. The Packers drafted Bakhtiari with the 109th overall pick after sending the Miami Dolphins their choices in the fifth and seventh rounds to acquire it.
The Steelers also acquired an extra fourth-round draft choice this year, trading their third-round pick in 2014 to Cleveland for the Browns' fourth-round pick this year. They used that to draft safety Shamarko Thomas with the 111th overall pick. Four picks later, they used their own draft pick, the 115th overall, to take Landry Jones, who currently is their third-string quarterback.
Starting at right tackle for the Packers is Don Barclay. He is a second-year player from West Virginia through Seneca Valley High School. No one drafted him in 2011 and he signed with the Packers. He is 6-4, 305.
Conjuring some Pirates mojo
Repeating a Thursday Tweet Thought: Clint Hurdle will lead the Steelers Terrible Towel Twirl today at Heinz Field. Maybe he can show them the way toward .500.
First Published October 19, 2013 8:00 PM