Tale of Two Rivalries: Jets-Pats Reality Show Trumps Ravens-Steelers
Maybe it was at the turn of the century, when the Steelers were the last team to beat the Ravens, in a (insert air quote marks) thrilling 9-6 contest, as the Ravens bludgeoned their way to a Super Bowl title.
Maybe it was 2004, when the Ravens pinned on the Steelers what became the Steelers' only loss in the regular season.
Maybe it was when one-time Steelers' receiver Plaxico Burress and former Ravens' cornerback James Trapp fought on the field in 2002, or when a year later former loudmouth Steelers' linebacker Joey Porter tried to climb aboard the Ravens' bus to fight Raven's linebacker Ray Lewis, the heart-and-soul of Baltimore.
But the Steelers-Ravens is not a better rivalry in the NFL than the Patriots versus the Jets no matter the argument from all the hyperbole -- the combined score since 2003 is Steelers 302, Ravens 302 -- in the run up to Saturday's divisional playoff between the Steelers and Ravens in Pittsburgh.
That combined score is a remarkable tally. But in the ultimate measurement over the last few seasons, the Steelers all but own the Ravens, especially with Ben Roethlisberger quarterbacking. The Steelers' boss on offense is undefeated against the Ravens in his last six starts against them.
The Patriots and Jets, however, is almost the opposite. Despite all the Super Bowl rings and firepower and celebrity on the Patriots' side, the rebuilt, upstart Jets somehow held their own against them the past three seasons. The Patriots and Jets, scheduled to meet Sunday in an AFC Divisional playoff, split their season meetings the last three regular campaigns. That included a Jets' win at the Patriots' Gillette Stadium, where both will be Sunday.
Now that's a rivalry. It actually lives up to the cliché about throwing out the records when these two teams get together.
The Patriots and Jets even have their own 302 to 302. It's 51-51-1. That's the combined record for the teams dating back to the '60s when the pair first started playing each other. The Ravens were only born in 1996, replacing Baltimore's long-time team the Colts.
Now in their sixth decade of competition, the Patriots and Jets have experienced plenty of those Steelers-Ravens' shenanigans. Roughly 30 years before Spygate, the Patriots crushed the Jets 55-21 and left Jets' coach Walt Michaels publicly accusing the Patriots of somehow stealing his staff's signals. "This will never happen to us again," Michaels spat. "I know what they did, but by the time we figured it out, it was too late."
Then there was the Bill Parcells-Bill Belichick game of musical chairs. Parcells bolted from the Patriots for the Jets after the '96 season. Then he (insert air quotes again) retired in 2000, leaving his assistant Belichick contractually obligated to takeover the Jets. But Belichick jilted the Jets one day after getting the head job and landed in the Patriots head coach's office. He eventually took then-assistant Jets' coaches Charlie Weis (he was actually highly thought of then) and Romeo Crennel with him, as well as Parcells' son-in-law in player personnel, Scott Pioli, and turned the Patriots into a dynasty.
Finally, Rex Ryan took the stage with the Jets two years ago.
"I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's, you know, rings," Ryan pronounced on New York sports talk radio station WFAN. "I came to win. Let's just put it that way. So we'll see what happens. I'm certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else."
Ryan was asked if he felt his new team needed to send a message to the Patriots and he responded: "I think we already have sent a message to them. So they can read between the lines. ... They can figure it out. And when they come here that second week of the season, we'll see."
Ryan has willed the Jets to a 2-2 split with the Patriots and on Sunday will be looking to rebound from a 45-3 blowout loss in the last meeting.
Earlier this week, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie used profanity to describe how he feels about Brady. When the Jets kicked off this NFL season as subjects of HBO's Hard Knocks, Brady said he hadn't watched the much-talked about series because he "hates" the Jets. The quiet-spoken Patriots' receiver Wes Welker cracked Thursday on Ryan's alleged foot-fetish videos featuring Ryan's wife.
The Jets may not win the Super Bowl this year but they could well win an Emmy.
"It'll be huge," Ryan told reporters on Friday about Sunday's game. "This one will probably be the second-biggest in the history of the franchise. Obviously, Super Bowl III being the most (important).
"Even more so than last year's Indianapolis game (in the AFC Championship), this year is huge because you've got your rival, a team that's won three Super Bowls right there in your own division, at their place, coming off the huge, embarrassing loss that we had in the Monday night game. I think this -- without question -- will be the second-biggest game in the history of the franchise. That's my opinion."
The Steelers-Ravens' game is big, too. Ravens' profane linebacker Terrell Suggs even argued last Tuesday that the winner at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field would win the Super Bowl.
"You can argue (top seeds) Atlanta and New England," Suggs told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "but ... anyone could argue the winner of this game will most likely go on to win the Super Bowl. You can put that out there because that's what these two teams got."
In another dose of cold water on the Steelers-Ravens' rivalry of late, the Ravens are 0-2 in the postseason at Heinz.
There is no question the Steelers-Ravens match defines pro football more than any other match up given its well-deserved reputation as a hard-hitting affair. I was in Pittsburgh for the 2009 AFC title game between the two when Steelers' defensive back Ryan Clark hit Ravens' running back Willis McGahee so hard the crack was heard in the press box. McGahee departed on a stretcher. In an earlier meeting, Ravens' lineman Haloti Ngata smacked Roethlisberger in the face, breaking Roethlisberger's nose and earning a $15,000 fine.
But hard knocks do not by themselves make for a rivalry. It's the back and forth that ultimately does. Truth is, there hasn't been as much forth between Pittsburgh and Baltimore recently as there has between New England and the Jets.