Former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark probably summed up the changes in the team’s rivalry with the Baltimore Ravens best recently. He said that if he hit former Ravens running back Willis McGahee today the way he did more than a decade ago, he’d go to jail for it.
Of course, he exaggerates for effect, but the point is that a lot of that brute physicality has been legislated out of the game (for better or for worse; I’ll stay out of the debate), and teams have adjusted accordingly by moving to different player archetypes that accentuate other skill sets.
Still, there remains a heightened level of physicality to the matchups, something that those on the outside of the rivalry perhaps observe best. Former Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack earlier talked about how he found this year’s AFC North games to be a “bloodbath” in comparison to what he experienced in the AFC South.
Recent Ravens acquisition Roquan Smith has also noticed a different level of physicality when these two teams play compared to what he was used to with the Chicago Bears—at least occasionally, judging by his Wednesday comments, via the Ravens’ website.
“Oh, it’s definitely a physical game, playing those guys”, he said. “I think it’s just like any other game, but you definitely feel like there are some slobberknockers, [and] guys want to run right at you [to] test your manhood in a sense. But I love that. I live for that”.
Slobberknocker is an amusing term, but it’s long-held currency as an American football slang for players with a style of physicality in their play that goes beyond the norm. Considering both teams’ quarterbacks were knocked out of the game last week, I imagine that would probably qualify.
And Smith was the one who knocked out the Steelers’ Kenny Pickett, on Pittsburgh’s fifth offensive play of the game, after fellow linebacker Patrick Queen failed to finish off a sack. He was able to clean up with a slobberknocker of a tackle that frankly should have been penalized. But the damage was the concussion, which caused the rookie to miss the following week.
And talk of testing your manhood at the NFL level is certainly not to be taken lightly, either. Only the best of the best even get the opportunity to step foot on an NFL field, so you have to assume that everybody has met some basic requirements, including toughness.
Of course, we also must acknowledge that reputation precedes reality. A lot of people talk about Ravens-Steelers in terms that are more befitting of what we might have seen a decade ago or longer in ways that may no longer or rarely apply to the games we see today. But guys like Jack and Smith have the opportunity to live up to the rivalry’s reputation through their own slobberknocking bloodbath.