Last year, when the Pittsburgh Steelers elected to retire the number 75 worn by Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene, they gave him the option of choosing at which game he would like the retirement ceremony to take place.
He chose the Steelers’ primetime home game against the Baltimore Ravens, a team that didn’t even exist during his playing days.
Earlier this year, former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis was elected for entrance into the Hall of Fame after five years of waiting. The Steelers elected to honor Bettis with a ring ceremony during a home game of his choosing.
He chose the Steelers’ primetime home game against the Baltimore Ravens, a team that had yet to come into being when he was drafted. The Ravens’ first season in 1996 was also The Bus’ first stop in Pittsburgh after a draft day trade.
Why is it that these Steelers greats so recognize the Ravens as the premiere team, so much so that they wish to be honored on the day that their team faces them on the field?
It’s easy, of course, for a team in your own division to emerge as the one in your crosshairs—even if that team has only existed for two decades. After all, the Steelers have faced off far more often against the Cincinnati Bengals, who have claimed some of the most recent division titles and have been in the postseason four years in a row.
Greene retired long ago, but he has long held ties to the organization. He has six Super Bowl rings to show for his contributions to the Steelers franchise, four of them as a player and the two most recent holding a less violent position.
The fact that he has remained invested in the team and in the city makes it less surprising that he is also invested in what has become their greatest rivalry, in spite of his non-existence during his own playing days.
But it’s hard not to get the sense that anybody in this position of being honored would also choose the Ravens game, which points toward the fact that there’s something more to the rivalry between these two teams than the average interdivisional skirmish.
As Lucas Campbell touched on a couple days ago, there has been a growing sense of mutual respect between the two teams, though this only seems to be a recent phenomenon that has come to replace some of the genuine hostility that once existed.
Perhaps it’s because it has become more obvious in recent years that, despite their differences, the two organization share many parallels, historically, such as an emphasis on defense. It should be no surprise that the Ravens and Steelers have had two of the top defenses over the course of this century.
Take the 2014 draft, for example. The Steelers drafted an inside linebacker in the first round. So did the Ravens. The Steelers drafted a defensive lineman in the second round. So did the Ravens. Even during this past draft, it seems that the Ravens moved up in the draft in part because they believed their selection was being targeted by Pittsburgh.
While there are obvious differences between the two teams, they are certainly among the most similar teams around the league. One is at times almost a reflection of the other.
It’s hard not to respect what you see yourself in. That is what makes a rivalry so great, and that is why everybody wants to be a part of it—including the league, who continually makes these battles primetime showdowns.