Byrne Identity: Two Biggest Bullies In The NFL

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Cris Collinsworth: Two Biggest Bullies In The NFL

Had the chance to talk with Cris Collinsworth on Thursday as he was preparing for NBC-TV's telecast of Sunday night's Ravens/Steelers clash … And, it will be a clash.

"Tell me why you think this game is special and why it will be one of the most-watched TV programs in the country this year," I asked Cris, a former All-America receiver at Florida, who played eight NFL seasons, making the Pro Bowl three times.

"You might not like what I'm going to say for your blog," Collinsworth stated. "What I see are the two biggest bullies in the NFL, especially with your defenses. You and the Steelers try to intimidate every team you play – and both teams usually do. Before anything else, both of you want to be more physical than the other team. You impose your wills.

"When forces like that meet," Collinsworth added, "Everybody wants to watch. Will anyone give in? Will someone break the other team? It is a special rivalry. Sometimes in your games, I get the sense that the players don't care what the score is. They just want to beat up the other team. It is a throwback game, if you want to call it that. It is that. It's clearly a non-video-era game."

We Do Care

Cris is right in some ways. Both the Ravens and Steelers do try to be more physical than the team they play. It's a significant part of each team's agenda. But, this isn't a fight. We're not trying to knock each other out. Well, we are trying to knock down the Steelers vigorously. But, we're trying to score more points than the other team.

I think NBC will do a terrific job of broadcasting the game. Cris and Al Michaels are at the top of the food chain of hosts. Michele Tafoya is outstanding from the sidelines. The pre-game show, which will include a Bob Costas interview with Terrell Suggs that will be taped when we arrive at the Pittsburgh hotel late Saturday afternoon will, no doubt, be entertaining. Michele is also interviewing Torrey Smith for a feature that will land on NBCSports.com. A separate piece on Haloti Ngata will also be on NBC.

[For the production meeting, the NBC talent will meet with Coach John Harbaugh, Joe FlaccoJarret Johnson and Ray Lewis. To get revved up for the game, you might check WBAL-TV's pre-game special (6:30 p.m.) with guests Coach Harbaugh and Ray Rice and Comcast's one-hour special (7 to 8 p.m. on Sunday), featuring Flacco and Lardarius Webb.]

It Is The Best Rivalry Currently In The NFL

Ravens vs. Steelers Rivalry
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My words can't adequately describe the intensity of the Ravens/Steelers games. Suggs does a pretty good job:

"We're built for them, and they're built for us. We impose our wills. They impose theirs. Something has to give. One play usually makes the difference. We have to make that play."

NFL Films captured the intensity of the rivalry in a piece they did for the NFL Network. We ran it on our website Thursday, but I think it's worth eight minutes of your time to watch it here. The interviews with Coaches Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin were done at the NFL Owners' meetings last March. These two guys don't look that rested and relaxed today. Presently, both have that midseason, I-need-some-sleep look. Take a look at the video.

Pittsburgh Memories

This is my 35th game in Pittsburgh. (Think it's the 38th for Ozzie Newsome.) I went there as a member of the Cleveland Browns' staff and have been at the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers for all of the Ravens/Steelers battles. I've seen some strange things: funny, happy, sad, disgusting and weird. Here are a few quick memories:

  • Lost a playoff game as a Brown after the 1994 season. Bill Belichick was our head coach. We took busses to Pittsburgh. Mine was filled on the way over with players and coaches. On the ride back to Cleveland, it was Coach Belichick, Mike Lombardi, our then personnel chief, and me. Guess the assistants and players didn't want to spend any more time with the head coach. They didn't miss any conversation. None of us said a word on the two-hour journey.
  • Arrived at the bus after a 23-9 victory at old Three Rivers Stadium in 1988 to find our special teams coach Bill Cowher – yes that Bill Cowher – in the face of the bus driver. "You know who did this. You're going to tell me, and you're going to clean it up. It's your bus, your keys. Speak," Cowher, who is from Pittsburgh, screamed. When I got on the bus, I saw the large pile of – how do I say this nicely – excrement - in the middle of the aisle about two rows from the front. (The driver eventually complied with Coach Cowher's request for clean up.)
  • Before the AFC Championship game in January of '09, a Pittsburgh security official attempted to stop Coach Harbaugh from going onto the field during the pre-game. The gentleman placed his arm in front of Harbs and said, "You need a sticker to get on the field." When I intervened and showed Barney Fife that Coach was wearing an official pass that indicated, as they always do, that the wearer had access to the entire stadium, the guy didn't back down. John calmly stated: "I'm going to the field to tape a pre-game radio show and then I'm going to coach my team." With that, former defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who was there as an honorary Ravens' captain, came around the corner and asked if there was a problem. "Not now," I said. "This is Tony. He's in charge of our security." And, we walked freely onto the field.
  • Coach Harbaugh and I were leaving the hotel to get on the bus to go to the 2009 game. Two hotel officials held the door for us. When we were about 15 yards away, the one guy said: "I think that was Jim Harbaugh, the coach." John smiled at me: "Maybe they'll know us better when we make the playoffs again." (Which we did.)
  • And, my all-time favorite: After the Browns lost for the 15th consecutive time at Three Rivers, Art Modell demanded that I take him to the officials' locker room. Art wanted to give famous referee Ben Dreith an earful about Chuck Noll, the Steelers' Hall of Fame head coach, intimidating the officials. Art banged on the door, and Ben's big voice bellowed: "Who's there?" Art stood tall: "Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns. I want to see Ben Dreith." Dreith responded: "Art, you can't come in here. It's a $10,000 fine." With that, Art, who freely admits that he had a few drinks during the second half, hesitated a few seconds and said: "Ben, would you come out for $5,000?" Dreith did, and Commissioner Pete Rozelle only fined Art the five grand.

We're ready for this next trip to Pittsburgh. And, like Terrell Suggs said, we're not bringing flowers. Should be a great game. Let's beat the Steelers.

Talk with you next week.

Kevin

Kevin Byrne , a Ravens senior vice president, has worked in the NFL for 32 years. Byrne has been with the Ravens since the start of the franchise in 1996. Earlier in his career, Byrne was the sports information director at Marquette University, his alma mater, when they won the 1977 NCAA basketball championship under coach Al McGuire.

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