Who Rules? Steelers Nation Versus Raiders Nation

By Michael K Reynolds

So much is made of the great battles between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens and for good reason. After all it’s the evolution of the decades old rivalry between the Steelers and Browns. And over the past thirteen years the matches between these multiple Super Bowl winners have produced some of the NFL’s most tightly and brutally competed games.

But most of us who followed the Black and Gold during the glory years of the 70’s would argue that today’s confrontations with the Ravens are no match in intensity and intrigue when compared to the old Steelers and Raiders clashes.

Although the Ravens offer characters for Steelers fans to loathe in the likes of Ray LewisEd Reed and Terrell Suggs, the classic Oakland Raiders boasted an entire team of colorful villains.

For those were the days where parity was something that sat perched in a cage and asked for crackers. With today’s rules of free agency, for better or worse, you would never be able to keep together a team like the 70’s Steelers with a starting line-up full of Hall of Famers. And, though it’s hard to admit for a Steelers fan, the Raiders role call wasn’t far off in terms of excellence.

Those Raiders were cast for a Hollywood movie. The bad boys of football. They had hard drinking, late nighting Ken Stabler as their quarterback, who could float the most beautiful left-handed spirals you’d ever see. Chasing them down would be world-class sprinter Cliff Branch or the plodding, but elusive and incredibly sure handed Freddie Biletnikoff. And if this wasn’t sufficient, you had the combination of grace and power in giant tight end Dave Casper, “The Ghost”, whose over-the-shoulder catches still dominant highlight reels.

Running the ball would be Mark Van Eeghan, a powerful back who primarily churned his yards behind probably the best left side of an offensive line ever with Hall of Famers Art Shell and Gene Upshaw at tackle and guard.

Defensively they were frightening, in particularly in the backfield with head hunting safety Gene Atkinson who Chuck Noll famously referred to as “the criminal element” and Jack Tatum, who rightfully earned his nickname as “the Assassin”.  And Lester Hayes at cornerback not only shut down receivers but helped speed up the outlawing of stick-um, his secret to so many interceptions.

Then there was “The Mad Stork”, the outside linebacker Ted Hendricks who used an exceptionally tall frame to swat down seemingly ever pass thrown in his direction. He was joined by Phil Villapiano, a four-time Pro Bowler. They were anchored by a defensive line including Otis Sistrunk and John Matuszak who were mean, tough and dirty as it gets. We can’t neglect to mention the greatest punter of all time, Ray Guy, who could switch the field and produce hang time like none other.

This band of merry hoodlums was aptly lead by John Madden, who long before he was giving out turkey leg awards at Thanksgiving, was a coach of champions, as big in personality as in body. Then, of course, there was owner Al Davis, the maverick of the league who didn’t care how his players acted on or off the field as long as they “just win baby”.

So it was natural that two great fan bases grew to preeminence as Steelers Nation and Raiders Nation in the 70′s and the mutual hatred and respect was spawned with the “Immaculate Reception” which still raises bile in the throat of Madden to this day. This intensity was only fueled with perennial clashes between these powerful teams as the AFC road to the Super Bowl went through either Oakland or Pittsburgh.

But, what about today. Who rules? Steelers Nation or Raiders Nation?

This would be a difficult question thirty years ago. Although the Steelers dominated the 70′s, the Raiders were still going strong in the early 80′s while the Black and Gold was in decline. But the question of what nation is greater is not so difficult to discern today.

Al Davis had a lot going for him before betraying his fans in the mid-80′s. He moved the Raiders to Los Angeles (after suing the NFL to do so). He retreated back to Oakland with his tail between his legs in 1995, but the relationship would never be the same. Not only did the Raiders gain a “street gang mentality” in Los Angeles, but when he moved back to Oakland, the fans loved the Raiders, but never again trusted Al.

The story is entirely different with Steelers fans. The Rooneys always aim for excellence but never at the cost of their love of the city of Pittsburgh and their commitment to their players and fans as family.

The natural outgrowth of this mentality can be easily witnessed with a visit to either team’s stadiums on game day.

Even back in the late 90’s where I covered the Steelers game as a local photo journalist in Oakland on the sideline. I was thrilled to be on the field alongside Greg LloydRod Woodson and Carnell Lake, but wary that at any moment I could take a beer bottle to the back of my head. Stabbings or beatings of opposing fans is not an uncommon occurrence at Oakland’s home field and you certainly wouldn’t take one of your daughters into the Black Hole wearing a Lynn Swann jersey.

Quite in contrast is the hospitality offered at Steelers Nation. I remember visiting Three Rivers Stadium with my soon-to-be wife for a game in the 90′s and again just a few years ago. Not only was I amazed how the entire city partook in the game on street corners, businesses and food establishments, but with our Steelers jerseys on, we were openly welcomed as “family” at nearly every tailgate party in the stadium.

Most surprising was how well visiting fans were treated. Although opposing supporters are sure to get their fair share of playful ribbing, they are also treated with civility and respect.

For those of us blessed with a long tradition of Steelers fandom, an Oakland Raiders game will always carry a high level of nostalgia and import regardless of team records.

But it’s also a succinct reminder of how good we have it thanks to the Rooneys. I’m proud my family are members of Steelers Nation.

How about you? Who do you think rules? Raiders Nation or Steelers Nation? Do you have any memories regarding the old Raiders and Steelers rivalry?

About the Author

Michael K. Reynolds

Longtime Pittsburgh Steelers fanatic and author of the acclaimed Heirs of
Ireland series. MichaelKReynolds.com

  • cencalsteeler

    Excellent story. I live in California and I go to two Steeler road games a year and 1 home game every five years. And you are right! When comparing East and West coast fans, I admit, East coast fans are the best. They are knowledgeable about the games and interact with opposing teams fans. They understand the commonality amongst sports fans even though they might don a different jersey. I have not encountered the Eagles fanbase as of yet, fore most east coasters tell the stories of them being the front runners of the bad boys of the east. But, nothing, I mean, nothing compares to Oakland. Oakland is the murder capital of the world. The fan base is definitely unique. Hearses are popular for tailgating. And you only get a glimpse on tv of the dressing up that takes place. Too Short and Easy E can easily be heard throughout the parking lot (Oakland based rappers). And, wearing an opposing teams jersey is best described as going to the crips turf while wearing bloods colors. YOU WILL get harassed going to the coliseum, it’s the image they portray and they are proud of their Raider Nation. I am even starting to see this image developing across the bay in San Fran now that the Niners are doing well. So, if I don’t post after Sundays game, you all know why. Black Hole or bust!!!

  • jsnine

    Great write up , could not agree more about the Rooneys, Pitt fans, and the city. Every time I’ve gone up to a game has been a blast and even against the Ravens – trash talk was there but all good natured. (For the three Ravens fans that were there of course)

    Now as per going to a Steelers @ Ravens game, wasn’t quite as civil or good natured…lol

  • steeltown

    Good luck
    Oh and agree about SanFran, those bandwagon fans that came out of hiding in the last 2-3yrs are pretty ridiculous

  • steeltown

    It’s hard to say, obviously looking back from this point in time I’d give the edge to the Steelers being that they are and have been more relevant in recent yrs but overall its hard to say one is more supreme or historically better than the other.

    I’ll tell you what though, the old school Raiders sure have a lot of trophies named after them.

  • Dr. Doom

    No one travels like Steeler Nation. But Oakland has a good fan base haven’t had much to cheer about in close to ten years.

  • Bob Starr

    If you like stories about football in the 70’s, buy the book “The Last Headbangers” by Kevin Cook.
    Great stories about the Steelers and Raiders rivalry. Put it on your Xmas list…

  • cencalsteeler

    Remember the black out on MNF 2 yrs. ago? Happened to be in the middle of the line in the bathroom when it went pitch black! Thinking of taking a page out of Richard Christie’s book. Mens Depends for the Raider game, LOL!!

  • Virdin Barzey

    Some aren’t old enough to remember this rivalry but make no mistake, it was brutal. Even though I don’t have as much disdain for the Raiders, its still buried down in there. I still hate to lose to those jokers and this week is no different.

    There is a big difference between Steeler Nation and Raider Nation. First off, the fans are very different. I’m biased of course. Steeler Nation is all over the world. Go traveling sometime and you are guaranteed to find a Steelers fan in a lot of country. The obvious difference is that we don’t wear costumes or act like thugs or any of that crazy stuff they do. A lot of the fans they have came from that gangster rap of the 80s-90s.

    I find Steeler fans to be more about football than all these other theatrics that Raider Nation is caught up in. Overall, I respected the Raiders because they played the way we did back then. Hardnose football. Back then, they were tough. Now, its kind of a shame that we still let them beat us. As long as we don’t turn the ball over, I think we win. Ben should have monster day if he played like he did last week and no silly turnovers.

  • stairman

    I remember those 70’s games, as i was a kid then. I remember hearing back then, that when the Steelers and Raiders played, they were the dirtiest played games of that era. always a tough, brutal contest. Blood and guts.

  • I was at the very same San Francisco 49ers game. (What a disappointing loss!) My wife and I had a great weekend in San Francisco (celebrating the upcoming publication of my first novel) and we were told the bus was the way to go for Candlestick Park (what a dump…but that’s another story). What a mistake! A bunch of Steelers fans stood at the stops and watched as bus after bus ignored us and drove by. Finally, we had to hijack an airport van and bribe them to take us to the game. We barely arrived on time. People don’t understand the sacrifices we go through to support the Steelers on the road.

  • cencalsteeler

    Good story. We, too, stayed in a beautiful hotel down by the Embarcadero. I hung my oversized terrible towel over the balcony the whole weekend for everyone to see. We went downstairs and took some nice photos of the San Francisco sky line with the terrible towel front and center. A photo I’ll cherish forever!

  • Johnny Loose

    Great post!! Anyone know of a Steelers type documentary thats good? Do they have one that is just awesome and goes more in depth about the Steelers past? If so I’d be all over it. I was born in 86 so obviously I missed out on their glory days. I’ve heard plenty of stories from my grandfather, who was a steel worker and wholeheartedly supports Steelers, Pirates, and Penuins ALL THE WAY. It was passed along to me and I’ll pass it along just the same. It’s the only real connection I’ve always had with my grandpap and I will cherish it forever. Black and Gold till I die, and then some. #SteelerNationBABY

  • Johnny…that’s a great story! I would bet you there are several great NFL Films series on the Steelers and it’s worth checking it out. The NFL Channel runs those every once in a while so you might be able to snag them if you have a DVR. Because of the rules changes with free agency, there will probably never be as dominant a team as the 70’s version of Black and Gold. So many people have their love of the Steelers as part of their family tradition. I have three daughters and my wife who are Steelers fans and you can believe that someday in the future when I am a grandpa, their kids will be wearing Steelers jerseys in their cribs.

  • Johnny Loose

    haha nice! And yea I’m sure I can dig something up online. Think I’ve watched everything youtube has to offer on the Steelers

  • Steve

    I read 2 books about Terry Bradshaw (Its only a game; Keep it simple) tells alot about Terry but also tells the inside of playing for the Steelers.

  • Maninblck

    Here in the original NATION we still hate everybody, but out of all the teams I personally hold respect for the Steeler fans and not their team. As far as civility well I remember when the Raiders were in LA and a certain Steeler fan decided he was just going to tell everyone what he thought of everyone at the Raider game. It’s my understanding he did a little more than just tell everyone, I heard it got physical to and for his troubles he got tossed off the second deck by a couple of very angry Raider fans. At least that’s the way I heard it.

  • Maninblck

    Good luck, remember your coming to our house Happy Halloween! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  • Maninblck

    One more thing Steeler fans it’s Halloween and in our house, PERFECT! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  • yienwae

    As one who is of the Raider Nation. I couldn’t disagree with you more. The Raider fans are all over the world too inspite of the fact that they are doing horrible for the past 10 years. The Raider fans are educated football fans. They know football and the X’s and O’s behind it. There is a small percentage of ‘so-called’ fans who are actually trouble makers, but they are about as many as any other fan base. Nothing more. They don’t act like thugs, but they just look frightening in their costumes. The majority of their fans are old school fans from the 70’s who actually remember the Steelers/Raiders rivalries. In fact, the newer or younger fans are quite versed in this particular rivalry’s lore and legend. And have a great respect for it as well as great and horrible memories of it. Yes the Immaculate Reception still hurts, but it is part of the legend and the lore and that’s why there is a great respect for it. In my opinion, the Raider Nation is up there with any other fan base that calls them selves a nation.

  • Virdin Barzey

    Yet you are on a Steelers only site. Interesting. No disrespect but I would never go to a Raiders only site.
    There’s a lot more I can say about the differences but nobody really care. Enjoy your team….Go Steelers.

  • yienwae

    I was on this site because I googled the Raiders and Steelers rivalry. This article came up. That’s how I got here. Any fan of the rivalry will go on to any website that talks about the legend of the Raiders and Steelers games of the 70’s. And….. Go Raiders. 🙂