When the Ravens arrive at Heinz Field on Sunday for another showdown with their longtime nemesis, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs will be reminded of the disdain Pittsburgh Steelers fans have for him and his teammates.
But make no mistake: Suggs will be feeling the love, too.
"Everybody loves Ravens-Steelers," Suggs said. "The world loves us — so do we."
Many of the names and faces of the rivalry have changed, and the styles of play have evolved. But when the two teams renew hostilities Sunday before a capacity crowd and prime-time national TV audience, the stakes will be high, as they always seem to be in this matchup.
The Ravens beat the Steelers, 26-6, in Week 2, but both teams enter the game with a 5-3 record, needing a win to keep pace in the most competitive division in the NFL.
The Cincinnati Bengals (4-2-1) are in first place; the improving Cleveland Browns (4-3) are in last. The Ravens and Steelers sit between, fittingly separated by very little.
The Ravens and Steelers have been playing at least twice a year since 1996, and the matchups have long been a measuring stick for the two teams and their respective fan bases. Defined by late-game drama, hard hits, tough talk and, yes, grudging but mutual respect, the rivalry has produced countless memories for the participants.
As they anticipated Sunday's matchup, several Ravens and Steelers — past and present — shared some of those memories.
The silent treatment
Stone-cold silence — that's what characterized Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's two best days at Heinz Field.
Sure, he remembers the abrupt end to his rookie season in 2008, trudging off of a chewed-up playing surface while the Steelers celebrated a 23-14 victory in the AFC championship game and another trip to the Super Bowl.
That might be as loud as he's experienced the stadium, but he's also heard it deathly silent, too. On two different occasions, he was the man largely responsible for shutting up more than 60,000 people.
In Week Four of the 2010 season, Flacco found T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the back of the end zone for a game-winning, 18-yard touchdown with just 32 seconds to go. The following year in Pittsburgh, Flacco hit Torrey Smith on a game-winning, 26-yard score with eight seconds to play. After both plays, the capacity crowd went from deafening to defeated.
"I remember standing there putting my arms in the air and Ray Rice and Todd Heap were right next to me," Flacco said of the Houshmandzadeh touchdown. "It definitely got silent there. That was pretty cool."
Torrey Smith thought he had blown it. He sensed it in the faces of his teammates in the huddle, too. He had grown up watching the Ravens and Steelers play tight games. In his first year in the rivalry, Smith could have been the hero if only he had done what had gotten him to the NFL in the first place, if only he had kept running.
The Ravens trailed the Steelers, 20-16, on the road at a pivotal juncture of the 2011 season when the offense got the ball at its own 8-yard line with just over two minutes to go. They had driven into Steelers' territory when Flacco saw a wide-open Smith and gave the rookie a chance to make a big play.
"It would have been an easy catch had I kept moving," Smith said. "Joe was moving around the pocket. I saw his helmet moving around so I thought he was scrambling so I patted my feet to get ready because I beat Ike [Taylor] on a double move. I had him beat, so I slowed down. I guess it's considered a drop. Coming back in the huddle, you saw everybody looking like, 'Damn, that might have just cost us the game.' But Joe was like, 'Next play, next play.' And [four] plays later, we ended up in the end zone."
Smith's sliding 26-yard catch made gave him a permanent spot in Ravens-Steelers' lore.
To say Suggs embraces his role as a villain when he goes to Pittsburgh would be quite an understatement.
During pre-game warmups, the loquacious linebacker struts toward the back of the end zone and gets as close as he can to the fans who shower him with curses and catcalls. His helmet off, his chest out and his mouth always going, Suggs stares into the mass of black and yellow jerseys and gives out as much as he gets.
"I love it," Suggs said. "I love it because they put so much energy into hating you. You obviously are doing something, so it's kind of flattering. I take it as a sign of respect. We already know how they feel about me, and I'm pretty sure the feeling is mutual [with] how I feel about them. It's a respect game."
Former Ravens' nose tackle Kelly Gregg was an affable guy, a humble and hardworking character who was beloved by his teammates and respected by his opponents. His "aw shucks" demeanor and his "Joe Everyman" persona earned him the nickname "Buddy Lee."
But whenever the Ravens faced the Steelers, his mood suddenly changed.
"I never liked going up there too much," Gregg said. "You get to the field after riding through the hills to get there and it was all torn up. Once you got on the field, you never really chewed the fat with the Steelers. It was all business."
Ravens-Steelers week is different
Football players, like most athletes, are men of routine. They arrive at the team facility at the same time every morning. They get dressed for practice, hit the field, come back inside, get treatment and go to meetings. And then they wake up the next morning and start the cycle all over again.
But Pittsburgh star wide receiver Antonio Brown, who broke into the NFL in 2010, learned early on that Ravens-Steelers week is different and one must adjust.
"It was always brutal," Brown said. "You have to know you have to hit the weight room two, three times, four times this week. You have to put the extra pads in, and you have to protect yourself at all times. It's just that type of game."
Big Ben era begins
Bill Cowher last coached Pittsburgh in 2006, but he hasn't forgotten anything about the Ravens-Steelers rivalry. As an analyst for CBS, he pretty much lives it every Sunday. Former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe used to be a CBS colleague and former Ravens' linebacker Bart Scott is now.
It was Scott who ushered in the Ben Roethlisberger era sooner than the Steelers expected by knocking Pittsburgh's starting quarterback Tommy Maddox out of a Week Two game in the 2004 season. Roethlisberger, then a rookie, replaced Maddox in the Ravens' 30-13 victory. The Steelers lost that game, but Roethlisberger led them to 15 straight wins before they bowed out in AFC championship game.
"That kind of got things started for Ben," Cowher said.
Most hated man in Baltimore
If Suggs is one of the most hated men in Pittsburgh, former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward certainly has that distinction in Baltimore. Ravens' fans loathed the physicality Ward played with and the mischievous grin that never seemed to leave his face.
Even now, when Ward comes to town as an analyst for NBC, he still feels the wrath of Ravens' fans.
"I still get flipped off, but that's what this rivalry is," Ward said. "That's what it meant to me. It's hard to explain to people who never played or participated in this rivalry game. You get two teams that are mirror images and every game is a big game when it comes down to Baltimore and Pittsburgh. It's a genuine dislike but an utmost respect for all the players that participated in that game."
Ward predictably counts the Steelers' three wins over the Ravens during the 2008 season, including one in the AFC championship game, as his favorite moment.
"I remember Ray Lewis saying, 'There was no way Pittsburgh could beat us three times in a row during the season,' " Ward said. "It couldn't get much better than that."