Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh Set To Square Off For 30th Time, 3rd-Most In NFL History

While the Pittsburgh Steelers are still reeling from a genuinely embarrassing loss against a divisional opponent, they are also preparing for a game in which they are hoping to avoid an encore. On the heels of a 41-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, they get the chance to host the AFC’s top-seeded Baltimore Ravens, who have repeatedly found ways to win games all year.

The Ravens are, of course, a familiar foe, in every sense of the word. Few teams have ever had such parallel continuity as have Mike Tomlin’s Steelers paired with John Harbaugh’s Ravens. In fact, on Sunday, they are set to become just the third pair of head coaches to face each other 30 or more times in NFL history, according to Missi Matthews.

The Steelers hired Tomlin in 2007 as a first-time head coach. The Ravens hired Harbaugh in 2008 as a first-time head coach. They have squared off 29 times since then, including no fewer than three times in the postseason, Pittsburgh winning two but losing the most recent, back in 2014. Tomlin is 15-14 against Harbaugh all-time, with a 13-13 regular-season record.

The only two coaching tandems to face off more frequently both involve Curly Lambeau of the Green Bay Packers, who faced fellow Hall of Famer Steven Owen 31 times as the head coach of the New York Giants. Lambeau coached 33 years, including 29 years with the Packers, while Owen coached 24 years.

The most frequent head coaching rivalry, however, also centered around arguably the most iconic franchise rivalry, that between Lambeau’s Packers and George Halas’ Chicago Bears. Halas coached the Bears for 40 years, from 1920, their inception, on and off through the 1967 season, with some breaks in between. Those two faced each other a staggering 47 times between 1921 and 1953, the length of Lambeau’s head coaching tenure.

It’s extremely questionable that the Tomlin-Harbaugh rivalry will ever match that—they would have to coach for at least another eight years after this season, plus a playoff appearance—but it is accurate to say that they have come to define AFC North football over the course of the past decade and a half.

And they have been two of the most stable franchises in the league since taking over. The biggest difference between the two is that Harbaugh has transitioned into a second franchise quarterback already, having drafted his first—though they are still yet to pay Lamar Jackson.

The look of the rivalry has certainly evolved over the years, in part due to the way the game has changed, but I do think it’s worth appreciating what these two men have represented, not just to their franchises or to the division, but really to the game of football over the course of the past decade and a half.

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