Safety Mike Mitchell has only been with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the past three seasons. Wide receiver Steve Smith is also in his third season with the Baltimore Ravens. While they both played for the Panthers previously—Smith for the entirety of his career prior to signing with the Ravens—the two were only teammates for one season, in 2013, which was Mitchell’s one year there, and his first season as a full-time starter.
In the span of just one year, they went from new teammates to opponents on opposite ends of arguably the most bitter rivalry in the NFL today. And each has become perhaps the face of that rivalry over the course of the past three years.
Each of them has taken a number of occasions over the course of the past couple of years to call the other one out for one matter or another, perhaps most famously when Smith accused Mitchell of a cheap shot hit in the back that helped end his 2015 season—the only problem being that it wasn’t Mitchell who hit him.
In the Steelers’ first meeting with the Ravens in 2016, Smith got the better of their exchange, on one reception giving the safety a stiff-arm and beating him down the field. On another play, Mitchell underestimated the old receiver’s speed, resulting in him taking a bad angle.
Smith understandably had plenty to say after that game, especially since his team won, and ended up calling Mitchell “a cabinet”, an insult that probably requires some explication. The future Hall of Fame wide receiver spoke of himself as a foundation builder, in the sense of building a house. He was calling himself a cornerstone, a building block, while Mitchell is an afterthought trinket sort of thing—a cabinet. Probably a decorative one.
Mitchell didn’t like that one too much. He called Smith out a few weeks back on Thanksgiving, telling a reporter conducting an interview with him immediately following that game—in which he had an interception—that “we’re coming for you, Steve”.
Over the course of the past few days, players on both sides of the aisle have been trying to talk down the rivalry, really not even saying all that much about it. Instead, they have executed a laser-sharp focus, getting down to business, and understanding how important a game this is, not just on the Steelers’ side, but on the opposite sideline as well.
Perhaps Mitchell and Smith will get their opportunities to go at one another over the course of the game, but the interpersonal rivalries are a very distant second when it comes to the things that matter most on the field on Sunday.
Mitchell had better keep his cool and not let Smith get into his head on the field, perhaps work him into committing a penalty. The veteran safety has his pride, and he was sent licking his wounds the last time the two faced each other. But there is a much bigger prize on the line.
Update: Mitchell told reporters today, when asked about Smith, that, “I look forward to playing in the AFC North championship”. So it sounds like he’s got his priorities right.
Mitchell on Steve Smith: “I look forward to playing in the AFC North championship.”
— Chris Bradford (@BCTBradford) December 21, 2016