I had never seen anything like it before.
Steelers safety Ryan Clark was in the RAVENS locker room after Baltimore’s 13-10 win in Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
I couldn’t help thinking, “Who let this intruder in here?”
Over my years of covering various professional sports, I’ve learned that players from opposing teams are much friendlier off the field than fans think. What I realized two weeks ago is that rule even applies to, what’s in my mind, the most fierce rivalry in the NFL – Ravens vs. Steelers.
I talked to Rice this week, asking for an explanation for this perceived secret Ravens-Steelers friendship.
“It’s something people don’t understand. Fans see it a different way, like you should hate a guy because he’s a Steeler,” Rice said.
“You don’t hate guys in the league. I’ve got tremendous respect for Ryan Clark and everybody else. After the game I can shake a guy’s hand and say, ‘You know what, I gave it all I got and we left everything on the field. Now here’s my number. You can call me whenever.’”
The thing to remember is that a lot of these players crossed paths before they were rivals, and they occasionally see each other off the field as well.
“He wants me to do my best and I want him to do his best,” Oher said when asked if there’s any friendly smacktalk. “But inside you want to win the game.”
Clark and Reed were born just a half hour away from each other in different New Orleans suburbs. Reed was one year older, but the two competed against each other in high school.
So while Reed was doing an interview following the Ravens’ victory, Clark jumped on a bench and interjected with a question of his own.
“What about the rumor that you were not the best safety in the New Orleans metro area in 1997?” Clark joked. “It was really the kid from Shaw who was discriminated against because he was skinny. What about that?”
Reed busted up laughing along with the reporters, who I think were, like me, a little surprised that a Steeler was asking the question.
“Shout out, I love Ryan,” Reed responded. “We grew up playing this game together.”
Then Clark went over to Rice and started messing with him. Rice didn’t realize who it was at first, and had a quizzical look. Clark scampered away and Rice was so transfixed on figuring out who it was that he couldn’t get through another question.
As I walked to the bus to leave Heinz Field, I saw more Steelers and Ravens chatting after the game. Safety Troy Polamalu was bouncing his kid on his shoulders as he walked with Reed – two of the game’s greatest safeties over the past decade.
Those two often see each other at Pro Bowls, which is also where a lot of players, even from enemy teams, form bonds.
Rice said that when the season is over, players talk about what happened in their meetings with each other. It’s good-natured bragging rights, if anything.
“I’m not going to not hang with somebody because he’s a Pittsburgh Steeler,” Rice said.
“We fight and battle each other during the season, but the moral of the story is we all want to see each other do well. We’re all in it for the same reason at the end of the day; we’re trying to do well and take care of our families.”