Baltimore better than Pittsburgh? Let's count the ways

When the Ravens play the Indianapolis Colts, you don't need a psychologist to explain why you suddenly have a burning desire to go punch a moving truck.

When it's the Pittsburgh Steelers — and you want to go all "Deer Hunter" on some drunk guy in a Hines Ward jersey — it's a little more complicated. You might want to lie down on that couch and let the nice doctor go to town.

The thing is, we love to hate the Steelers and their miscreant, terrible-towel-waving fans, but the motivation is not as obvious as one Mayflower van through the heart. This is about them and us, and I'm not just talking about two smash-mouth football teams that play great defense and always seem to be in a death match with postseason implications — even in Week 4.

Sure, the Steelers are a great football team with an enviable tradition and a room full of Lombardi trophies, which already would be enough to stoke the competitive fire of this rivalry. Throw in some nasty street fights over the past few years and you've got all the ingredients for another head-banger at Heinz Field on Sunday.

But this rivalry runs much deeper than that, and goes beyond a single sport or even sports in general. Whenever the Ravens and Steelers hook up, they represent two cities fighting not over their differences, but over their similarities.

Think about it. The Steelers represent a hard-scrabble industrial town that wears its blue collar like a badge. Baltimore was never the steel capital of the world, but we don't bleach our work shirts either. If you still need a football game to decide which town is tougher, that ought to tell you something.

The sports parallels are unmistakable. Each city has a long and glorious football history, though Baltimore's was interrupted when the Colts slithered away under the cover of darkness. Each city also has a long and storied baseball history that has been soiled by years of ineptitude.

The Pirates are one of the few teams in the major leagues that the Orioles haven't had to look up to over the past 13 years, but that's one of the reasons there is no longer any question that both Baltimore and Pittsburgh are football towns.

If you doubt there is an overarching civic rivalry, consider the actual sports landscape. The construction of Oriole Park was the beginning of a new era of sports architecture and quickly became the envy of the baseball world. Pittsburgh didn't just join in the rush to replicate the Camden Yards new-old experience, but built PNC Park with such a striking panoramic view of the Three Rivers area that it is considered by some (not us, of course) to be one of the most visually dazzling facilities in professional sports.

The construction of Heinz Field also followed the opening of the Ravens' state-of-the-art downtown stadium, giving Pittsburgh an equally impressive baseball/football complex. I'm sure the denizens of the Steel City would vigorously insist that a sports building boom was going on all over the country at that time and deny there was any intent to keep up with Baltimore, but it's pretty obvious they want to be just like us. Can't blame them for that.

They do have one big advantage over us. They've got a pretty good NHL team that won the Stanley Cup two years ago, but — as everybody knows — it doesn't really count if it's on the Versus channel. Oh, and the Pirates did beat the Orioles in the 1971 and 1979 World Series, but they probably cheated or something.

The biggest thing both cities have in common is a serious self-esteem problem. Baltimore is constantly trying to prove that it isn't just the backdrop for "The Wire" and "Homicide: Life on the Street." Pittsburgh is slightly more conflicted as it hangs on to its hard-as-steel image while trying to prove it's not just the dull factory town that filmmakers like to use to illustrate urban despair.

To be fair, they are both much better places than they have often been portrayed to the rest of the world, but that doesn't make for much of a storyline as the Ravens and Steelers prepare to renew one of football's best rivalries.

Let's just leave it at this: We hate the Steelers for all the reasons we do understand and some that we probably don't.

Now, what were you saying, doctor?

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays with Brett Hollander. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at

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