Let me say this first: there is great respect between the Ravens and Steelers. That includes owner-to-owner, coaches-to-coaches and, certainly, players-to-players. Our guys have tremendous respect for Ben Roethlisberger, just like they have admiration for the likes of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
But, there is some nastiness in this rivalry. You fans see it on the field in the intimidating, physical style of play employed by both teams. We see it in other ways sometimes…like at last January's AFC Championship game.
When we arrived at Heinz Field for that title battle, we were told by our director of security, Darren Sanders, that to get on the field, we would have to have a special sticker applied to our credentials. Our coaches already had passes that allowed them on the field. Even front office folks like me, who had official credentials that gave us access to any place in the stadium, were told that we needed the extra sticker.
Odd, I thought, because, while the game was played at Heinz Field, the game was being administered by the NFL office, as all conference championships are. Maybe they were adding an extra level of security to those who have to get to the field.
Sanders dutifully placed the sticker on my official pass.
When I went to get John Harbaugh to take him to the field to tape his pre-game radio interview with Gerry Sandusky of WBAL/98 Rock, the head coach grabbed my official pass and started scratching the sticker off. "What are you doing, Coach? We have to wear those to get on the field."
Harbaugh replied: "Have you looked at them? We're not wearing them."
I looked at the sticker. It had a picture of a donkey on it with the words "Good luck" underneath what the bible calls an "ass." So, in essence, we were wearing stickers that said "Good luck _."
We all then took the stickers off.
As Coach Harbaugh and I approached the end of the tunnel to enter the field, a large security person stopped me, and said: "You can't go on the field without a sticker on your pass."
I explained bluntly that I was taking the head coach to the field for his pre-game radio interview. The security man said: "He's not going either." I added, "This is the Ravens' head coach." Harbaugh then said: "I'm going. He's going with me. You do what you have to do."
The security guy put his hand on my shoulder. I brushed it off and we walked to the field, with the security person right behind, on his walkie, asking for assistance. As we got to the field, Tony Siragusa, our former defensive tackle and an honorary captain for the game, was waiting for us. "Goose," I said, "Keep an eye on the guy behind us. He tried to stop us from coming to the field." Goose's eyes lit up with both joy and determination.
John then started his interview with Gerry. The security guy was soon joined by a Pittsburgh policeman. I could hear Goose saying: "I wouldn't break up that interview. That would make a lot of us unhappy." Not surprisingly, better judgment and maturity prevailed.
I then saw one of the honchos from the NFL office – the man in charge of the game. I explained the stickers. He said the league did not have knowledge of the stickers and that he would take care of the situation.
We didn't have to have the stickers on our passes after that.
Ah, the stuff that sometimes goes on in a rivalry.
And, no, we are not making the Steelers wear an extra sticker for this game…although we did laugh about it a little in an operations planning meeting for this game.
Season Of Giving
We've bragged about this before: we have a lot of good guys on our team, and many of them showed that this week by helping those in need enjoy a holiday meal in the comfort of their homes. Fifteen Ravens players gave their money and time to distribute, cook and serve meals last Tuesday. Some players even went to 2 places to lend a hand.
Here are some of the players who were doing the good deeds: Ray Lewis, who does this annually, Ed Reed, who does the same, Jared Gaither, Ray Rice, Prescott Burgess, Mark Clayton, Todd Heap, Edgar Jones, Ben Grubbs, Willis McGahee and Brandon McKinney. Way to go guys! We thank you, and we're proud of you.
Below are three blogs from Melanie LeGrande, our director of community relations, Andi Goodwin, our community relations manager, and Mallory Steinberg, our CR intern this season, describing some of our players' activities from last Tuesday.
Melanie LeGrande: "Tuesday in the community is always a wonderful day, but the Tuesday before Thanksgiving is special. The way that our Ravens players care about the holidays and about giving to people in need always astounds me each year in November and December. This year, I visited the Willis McGahee Thanksgiving distribution in Howard County on the morning of Nov. 24. It was a quick stop, but nice to go and support Willis in his community efforts. I saw families lined up, very patient, and ready to receive turkeys, stuffing, vegetables, bread and pies. Willis had his three children and his mother in tow, and that was special to see. Everyone pitched in. I love how local high school students come in to assist. Students from Atholton High School were on hand to package and distribute beside Willis.**
I made my way down to Baltimore City, near M&T Bank Stadium, to work with Jared Gaither and 10 ladies from our wives association, the Lady Ravens. We set up at Paul's Place Outreach Center, where a line was formed outside in the misty rain. Again, folks were very patient. Jared, in his sweat suit ('It's raining outside,' he told me) and a knit cap, worked with lineman Bryan Mattison, to distribute turkeys and chickens. This was the first year that Jared had done a Thanksgiving event, and he was excited to do it. He even took a tour of the center afterwards, and I think we may do something for Christmas as well. He's eager this year, and he recognizes what he can offer to the community. I'm proud of him.
Another first-time event was hosted by Ben Grubbs. I trekked over to the Park Heights Boys & Girls Club immediately after Jared's event. Ravens staff and volunteers were gracious enough to come and assist, and we packaged the bags for distribution. Ben and his mother joined us later that afternoon, and his teammates Joe Flacco, Todd Heap and Joe Reitz were also on hand to pass out the bags to 100 single-parent families. Flacco makes me laugh – he left for a bit to go visit with the youth in the Club, and we had to search for him. He is so friendly and unassuming. It's always incredible to see all of the support that teammates give each other at these events.
I'm biased, but I think our players do an amazing job in our community, making a difference. I'm proud to be a part of their efforts."
Andi Goodwin:*"I affectionately refer to my experience on Tuesday (11/24) as "Turkey-palooza." My travels included a Thanksgiving basket giveaway at Owen Brown Inter-Faith Center (Columbia, Md.) hosted by Willis McGahee, a Thanksgiving basket distribution at Robert C. Marshall Recreation Center (Baltimore, Md.) hosted by Ray Lewis (with assistance from Mark Clayton) and the serving of a Thanksgiving meal to the men of Helping Up Mission (Baltimore, Md.) sponsored by former Raven Bart Scott, hosted by Ray Rice and served by Rice, Antwan Barnes, Justin Harper, Edgar Jones and Kelley Washington. *
Travelling from location to location, you couldn't help but notice how nasty the weather was all day. The non-stop rain, was to blame for traffic and accidents that made the drive between locations somewhat challenging. But as soon as you walked into each site, the smiles on the faces of both recipients and volunteers brightened your entire outlook. In one short day, I was able to witness the appreciation of hundreds of families and individuals who benefitted from Tuesday's events. Yet, equally as thankful were our players and their volunteers for being blessed and fortunate enough to be able to provide such a gift to our community."
*Mallory Steinberg: "Thank You. Two simple words that are most powerful when paired together. On Tuesday, I witnessed a live manifestation of gratitude and the importance of giving thanks. I have always loved Thanksgiving for the time spent with family and, of course, the food; but I have a new appreciation for the sentiment behind the holiday after seeing the Ravens in action at their various basket distributions. I was overwhelmed by the number of turkeys (never have I seen so many in my whole life), but more taken with the personal touch exemplified by each player as they provided a Thanksgiving dinner for families in need in our community. In many instances there were lines out the door, but each player took time to be kind with the person in front of them. It seemed that the Ravens were able to provide a little spark of hope as they interacted with folks throughout the day simply by wishing a Happy Thanksgiving. It was a great way to start the holiday season with a focus on what is really important." *
We all know how we'll end this holiday weekend – with the hugely important showdown against the Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday night. I'm sure it will be festive for the fans in the stands and the national TV audience. It will be serious and smashing on the field. There were reporters at the AFC Championship game last January that said they had never seen a more "physical" game than the one played by the Ravens and the Steelers. Expect more Sunday night. This is not a game for the meek. Each team will try to impose its will on the other. Each team will be told by coaches and teammates that the one that is most physical will win. It will be nasty. It will be intimidating. It will be what has become common of a Ravens/Steelers battle. We're ready. They will be, too. Let's beat 'em!
Talk to you next week.
Kevin Byrne is in his 31st NFL season and is the Ravens' senior vice president of public and community relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis , Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.