Tale of two cities

The Baltimore Sun

When the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers resume their heated rivalry today at M&T; Bank Stadium, they'll share more than a goal of winning the AFC North.

For two teams and fan bases that dislike each other so much, they are bonded by their history, sports culture and football philosophy.

Both cities embrace their blue-collar roots. Both work on the same sports calendar (the annual losing seasons of the Orioles and Pirates are mere distractions until training camp).

And both talk about their teams in a way others can't understand. In Pittsburgh, it's "Yinz love dem Stillers." Around here, it's "Youse luv dese Bawlamer Ravens, hon."

Even the football teams are built similarly - on the hardened mantra of running the ball on offense and stopping it on defense.

"They play football the way we play football," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "They're a physically tough and mentally tough football team. Those are things that we honor and desire to be. In order to do that, you got to line up and play with guys like these."

A comparison of the teams and cities:

COACHES: : In replacing their Super Bowl coaches, the Ravens and the Steelers went with low-profile choices. Had anyone ever heard of Tomlin or John Harbaugh before they were hired? But both have proved to be the right choices. Tomlin won the AFC North in his first season, and Harbaugh could do the same this year. The one lament: Harbaugh and Tomlin lose style points because neither comes close to the sound bites of Brian Billick or Bill Cowher. Advantage: Even

FOOD:: The signature item in Pittsburgh is the Primanti Brothers sandwich, which consists of grilled meat, cole slaw, tomato slices and french fries all between two pieces of Italian bread. Huh? No wonder most Stiller fans look like nose tackle Casey Hampton. In Baltimore, it's all about the crab cake. No contest here. Advantage: Baltimore.

QUARTERBACKS:: Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco are both at least 6 feet 5. Both came from small football programs. And both already have nicknames (it's Big Ben vs. Joe Cool). Let's just hope the similarities don't eventually extend to motorcycles. Roethlisberger, though, has the more proven track record at this point, winning division titles and a Super Bowl. Advantage: Pittsburgh.

FANS: : Noise generated by Ravens fans vs. loyalty of Steelers fans. M&T; Bank Stadium is considered one of the loudest outdoor stadiums in the NFL. But Ravens fans have generally let down their team when their fiercest AFC North rival comes to town, selling their tickets to their black-and-gold counterparts (who infiltrate stadiums around the league like no others). If Ravens fans can keep the Terrible Towels out of Baltimore this year, they win this matchup. Advantage: To be determined.

PLAYMAKING SAFETIES: : Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu make life miserable for NFL quarterbacks. Reed has scored three touchdowns this season, and Polamalu has intercepted seven passes. But each is dealing with a different challenge. Reed has a nerve impingement in his neck that could end his career. Polamalu has to fit all his hair into a helmet each game. Advantage: Baltimore.

BEER:: The de facto beer in Baltimore is Natty Boh (National Bohemian). The problem is it's not even brewed here anymore. It's brewed by Miller in Eden, N.C. This relocation didn't make as many headlines as the Colts' departure. So, though Iron City beer might have fallen on tough financial times, it's still located in the Steel City. Advantage: Pittsburgh.

DEFENSES:: Despite losing three starters (nose tackle Kelly Gregg, cornerback Chris McAlister and safety Dawan Landry) to injuries, the Ravens' defense seems to have more talent than the Steelers'. But Pittsburgh can back up its claim as being the top defense with statistics. The Steelers rank first in overall defense, run defense, pass defense and fewest points allowed. The Ravens, who are second or third in those categories, can make their statement today. Advantage: Pittsburgh (at least for now).

FACES OF THE FRANCHISE: : Ray Lewis and Hines Ward epitomize the passion and physical nature of their teams. Lewis sends his message with head-on tackles, breaking the shoulder of Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall this season. Ward, though, has been the Ravens' biggest agitator because he blindsides defenders and smirks afterward. Asked whether Ward's smile annoys him, Lewis said: "If his smirk annoys people, I know people are really [ticked] off when I smile. Unless someone [ticks] you off and you want to meet them in the parking lot, then that smile might change." Advantage: Baltimore.

STEELERS (10-3) @ RAVENS (9-4) Today, 4:15 p.m. TV: Chs. 13, 9 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 2 1/2

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