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Christmas Classic In The Making? Not Your Average Ravens-Steelers Game


The past two times the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers played each other, they kicked off at 1 p.m.

That is not befitting this rivalry.

"When have you ever seen a Ravens-Steelers game in the middle of a day?" cornerback Lardarius Webb incredulously said this week on “The Lounge.” "I don't even know how to see black and yellow in the daytime."

Sunday's installment of the storied rivalry will kick off at 4:30 p.m., just as the sun is setting over Pittsburgh with temperatures in the mid-30s. It will be one of just two NFL games played on Christmas day.

The AFC North crown will be on the line, at least for the Ravens. Win and they still have a shot. Lose, and their rivals will celebrate the division championship right in front of them.

There's a ton of respect between the two sides, but some bad blood too. The Ravens have beaten the Steelers in four straight meetings, which has gotten under Pittsburgh's skin.

As this Sunday's Ravens-Steelers tilt draws closer, both sides see it as the rivalry at its finest.

"As soon as the Eagles game was over, I instantly thought this is going to be one of those classics," Webb said. "It's going to be crazy."

Much of the chatter over the last couple years has been that the Ravens-Steelers rivalry has lost a bit of its luster.

Gone are the days when Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata banged heads with the likes of the Steelers' Hines Ward, Heath Miller and Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger and the Ravens' Terrell Suggs are the only two remaining vestiges of that era.

The two teams hadn't played in as many big games recently. They faced off in the 2008 AFC championship and 2010 divisional playoffs. They didn't meet again in the postseason until the 2014 wild-card round, which the Ravens won in Pittsburgh.

Last year, the Ravens struggled to a 5-11 record, so their meetings didn't have high stakes. Baltimore did nearly cost Pittsburgh a postseason berth with a Week 16 upset in Baltimore, but the nation wasn't watching because the game was flexed out of Sunday Night Football.

This Sunday's game in Pittsburgh will have an entirely different atmosphere.

First of all, the stakes could hardly be higher for a non-playoff game.

The Steelers can clinch with a win, however. Even if the Ravens beat the Steelers, Baltimore would still need to also win in Cincinnati next week.

According to ESPN, the two teams have only met five times in December when both teams had a winning record. There have been only two previous meetings when first place in the AFC North was on the line (in 2008 and 2010). The Steelers won both times.

"One game for the North title," Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin said. "It needs no endorsement from me. If you can't get up for that, then you're a dead man."

The timing of the game also makes it all the more unique. The two teams have never met on Christmas and the Ravens have only played once in team history (2005).

Head Coach John Harbaugh said the fact that the game is on Christmas (one of his two favorite holidays with Easter) is "special." He said he talked to the players about that opportunity during the team meeting.

"To be able to be part of this, football, Christmas day, be in people's homes, and do what we do, and do what we love to do, is just really an awesome thing," Harbaugh said.

"When you sit back and think that as a little kid you were sitting there watching games on Christmas," safety Eric Weddle added. "[Now] you're going to be playing and everybody's going to be watching. That's pretty surreal to think about."

There's even a bit more bad blood in this year's meeting because the Ravens are going for a fifth straight win versus their rivals. Baltimore has never swept the Steelers in back-to-back seasons.

New adversaries have emerged as well, as Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. and Steelers safety Mike Mitchell, former teammates in Carolina, have not been bashful about their disdain for each other. After a Thanksgiving day win over the Indianapolis Colts, Mitchell said, "We’re coming for you, Steve."

Smith stayed away from commenting on Mitchell, but he's no stranger to the Ravens-Steelers rivalry now that's he's in his third year in purple.

"There is a professional hate with each other," Smith said. "The Pittsburgh and Ravens rivalry is pretty fierce, pretty intense, hard-hitting. It has been that way for a long time. Our fans hate them. Their fans hate us. It is a great divorce."

The yellow Terrible Towels will be waving. Roethlisberger will be under center (and fully healthy this time). At some point, "Renegade" will come blaring through Heinz Field's speakers.

"It's hard to describe. It's like a lot of things, you know it when you see it and when you're a part of it and when you live it," Harbaugh said, adding that he respects the Steelers organization, Roethlisberger and Tomlin.

"It's something I've really grown to love. It's rough, tough, disciplined, hard-nosed. It's really everything football is supposed to be. To me, that's what makes it special."

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