Make no mistake, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rivalry with the Baltimore Ravens has gotten ugly at times over the years. They have participated in some of the most brutal games of the past two decades, and the events of some of those games have helped lead to changes in how the game is officiated.
But that does not compare to the nastiness and lack of respect that we have seen over the course of the past several years in the Steelers’ games against the Cincinnati Bengals, a tone that has largely been driven by one man: Vontaze Burfict. A team captain, he refused to shake players’ hands in the first go-around, and on Monday, the Bengals didn’t even bother to bring him out for the pre-game coin toss.
A captain. At home. In prime time. Being held back from participating in the coin toss. I think that says quite a lot in and of itself.
It’s almost as though Sunday’s upcoming game against the Ravens will be a respite from the unsportsmanlike tenor that has become palpable during Steelers-Bengals games. At least when it comes to the Ravens, there is a clear mutual respect there. Perhaps the fact that those games have actually been competitive in terms of win-to-loss ratio might have something to do with it.
Take, for example, the fact that the Ravens opened their meetings this week with the team saying a prayer for Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is just beginning the arduous journey of recovering from a spinal injury. Baltimore hasn’t always done the right thing, but respect for their adversary has been a constant.
“There has always been a lot of respect from both organizations, from both sets of players” Arthur Moats told Chris Adamski. With Shazier’s injury, Moats has been lining up inside, and could play there Sunday. “We are going to have a lot of big hits, but you never feel like it’s with the malicious intent that you sometimes get when we play Cincinnati”.
“There is always that respect level”, he continued, “and I feel like that’s the difference between this rivalry and when we play Cincinnati”, a declaration that is, quite frankly, rather sad.
It is not universal, of course. Steelers safety Mike Mitchell came to the defense of Bengals safety George Iloka when he was suspended for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Antonio Brown in the end zone, saying that he knows Iloka well and trains with him in the offseason.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been clobbered from time while playing the Ravens. Nobody has brought him down more than Terrell Suggs, who is having another strong season. But he likens playing Baltimore to “two friends going at it on the playground”.
“They’re going to knock your head off, you’re going to try to knock theirs off”, he said of the physicality of their matchups with the Ravens, “but you’re going to help them up and respect them and say, ‘great job, let’s go at it again’”.