Byrne Identity: We Knew This Game Would Be Huge

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WE KNEW THIS RAVENS/STEELERS' GAME WOULD BE HUGE

*"John Madden didn't leave us enough onomatopoeia to describe all the hard-hitting, head-snapping, clock-cleaning and slobber-knocking that happens when Baltimore and Pittsburgh trade blows. The NFL's most visceral rivalry isn't for the faint of heart, stomach, mind or body. This is physical football at its best. Defenses fly around smacking everything…Offenses have enough tough personalities to stand up for every extra yard." *The Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer

Yes, we knew when we saw the schedule last April that Sunday night's showdown against the Steelers would be huge.

NBC-TV knew it when they asked for the game.

Head Coach John Harbaugh knew it. So did Mike Tomlin. And Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Joe Flacco, Big Ben, Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and on and on. … All knew that this Dec. 5 confrontation would mean a lot for both teams. Would you want it any other way? Isn't it great to have it at M&T Bank Stadium?

The weather will be perfect for this hard-hitting contest. Cold breath will be seen coming out of players' mouths, maybe a few snowflakes in the air.

The Ravens vs. Steelers: the current best rivalry in football. If you work in this business, it's a game like this that makes it very worthwhile. For fans, it's a week's worth of anticipation, conversation – even taunting – thrown in with a little worry, angst and superstitions. (Make sure you have the "winning" clothes on and that you're watching from the right seat.)

*"This rivalry is for people who like their coffee black and their ice cream vanilla. It is for those who still make their calls on landline phones, still mail postcards, still listen to music on CDs. It is black and white television and the milkman coming to the door. As straightforward as a fight on the playground. This rivalry is about today, but smacks of yesterday." *USA Today's Mike Lopresti

We know we can beat them. No doubt. They know they can beat us. That makes this even better. Will it be a close game? Likely. Look at the last five regular season contests played between these rivals – four games were decided by three points, and the fifth produced a five-point difference:

  • Oct. 3, 2010: Ravens won, 17-14, at Heinz Field when Flacco hit T.J. Houshmandzadeh with an 18-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left in the game.
  • Dec. 27, 2009: Steelers won, 23-20, at Heinz Field after Baltimore had two second-half touchdowns called back because of penalties and a touchdown pass dropped in the end zone.
  • Nov. 29, 2009: Ravens won, 20-17 in overtime, at M&T Bank Stadium when rookie Paul Kruger intercepted Dennis Dixon to set up the tying field goal, and Ray Rice grabbed a Flacco pass on fourth-and-5 and raced 44 yards on that Ravens' drive.
  • Dec. 14, 2008: Steelers won, 14-9, at M&T in the game when wide receiver Santonio Holmes scored the winning touchdown with 43 seconds left in the fourth quarter. By the way, I'm one of those who didn't think he got into the end zone on that play.
  • Sept. 29, 2008: Steelers win, 23-20 in OT, at Heinz Field in Flacco's first road game of his pro career.

Five games and just five points separate the two combatants: Steelers 81, Ravens 76. And here's some encouraging news, the Ravens have beaten the Steelers six of the past seven games they've played at M&T Bank Stadium. The Steelers are 5-1 on the road this season, but the Ravens are undefeated at home in 2010 (5-0) and currently have the longest home winning streak in the NFL (when you include the playoffs) at eight games.

"Welcome to the Ravens-Steelers rivalry, arguably the nastiest in all sports. If a punter (the Steelers' Mitch Berger) and a little-used cornerback (the Ravens' Frank Walker) can create this kind of smear and loathing, what happens when you throw the irresistible force that is Hines Ward and the immovable object that is Ray Lewis onto the same field?"  ESPN.com's Greg Garber

Oh boy, oh boy, this is going to be something Sunday night. It will be a game, but it will also be an event. It will have more energy than most playoff games – it means that much to both teams. And, since I'm dialing up quotes in this blog, here's a little more encouragement and fodder for Ravens fans. It comes from CBS-TV and NFL Network's Solomon Wilcots, who played six years in the NFL:

"The Ravens are a well-coached team in terms of understanding where they need to improve. It's something that John Harbaugh has his team work on weekly. I know everyone will look back at the losses to the Falcons and the Patriots, but the Ravens are an improved team in December. If you ask any of the teams they've played – even the ones they've lost to – no one will want to face the Ravens again."

That's what I'm talking about. But, words mean nothing at kickoff Sunday night. It will be about which players and coaches outperform their counterparts. Those at the game will enjoy a spectacle. Those watching at home will see the best reality TV.

NBC-TV PREPARES

I think NBC-TV, under the direction of executive producer Dick Ebersol – one of the fathers of "Saturday Night Live" – and producer Fred Gaudelli, does an outstanding job of presenting NFL games. And, they certainly put a lot of work into the product beforehand.

This morning (Friday), Gaudelli and his talent team of Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Andrea Kremer met with Coach Harbaugh. This afternoon after practice, they will meet separately with Flacco, Rice, Lewis and Reed. Collinsworth talked by phone yesterday with Cam Cameron, Greg Mattison and Matt Birk. Kremer has visited with a number of players, including receivers Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and Houshmandzadeh.

Later this afternoon, this crew will study our game tape from last Sunday's win over Tampa Bay. Collinsworth looked at other games earlier in the week.

That's not all. A separate NBC crew with the venerable Bob Costas will be here Saturday morning to do an interview with Coach Harbaugh that will run on NBC's Football Night in America pre-game show.

The NBC-TV crew prepared for an outstanding broadcast of what they believe will be a great competition. We plan to give it to them on the field. Let's show the world what energy Ravens fans can generate for their team. I can't wait. 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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