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      Smack Zone — Bob D'Angelo

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      Steelers-Ravens: a History of Hatred

      [caption id="attachment_1132" align="alignright" width="289"]Before Steelers fans hated the Ravens, they hated the Browns. They left Cleveland long ago, but the hatred runs deeper than ever. Before Steelers fans hated the Ravens, they hated the Browns. They left Cleveland long ago, but the hatred runs deeper than ever.[/caption] By Bob D'Angelo, Smack Zone Contributor You know sparks will fly when the Steelers and Ravens meet tonight at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. It’s a tradition between these AFC North rivals. Sure, some players and teams talk smack, but these two teams back it up. Hard-hitting, tough and intense. Plus, the Steelers and Ravens clearly don’t like each other. “It's just pure hatred – just like two old-fashioned bullies meeting in an alley,” former Steelers receiver Hines Ward told USA Today. There may be hatred, but there is plenty of respect. “It’s the best rivalry in football,” Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs told USA Today in the same article. “Hatred is a very strong word, but it seems fitting. “But there’s a lot of respect going there. Because the two teams are so similar.” [caption id="attachment_1188" align="alignleft" width="296"]The Ravens carved their own identity in Baltimore when they bolted from Cleveland. But tradition and history run deep, and hatred of Pittsburgh remains a franchise constant. The Ravens carved their own identity in Baltimore when they bolted from Cleveland. But tradition and history run deep, and hatred of Pittsburgh remains a franchise constant.[/caption] Since 2000, the Ravens have won two Super Bowls and reached the playoffs 10 times. The Steelers have won two Super Bowls and have made nine playoff appearances. In their own division, the two rivals have combined to win the AFC North 10 times in the 13 years since the NFL established its current alignment. Pittsburgh and Baltimore have met four times in the postseason, with the Steelers winning three times. The Ravens finally broke through in January 2015, winning 30-17. Here are some of the greatest hits from this intense rivalry: In the AFC Championship Game on January 18, 2009, Steelers safety Ryan Clark put a crunching, legal hit on Willis McGahee. The Ravens’ running back had just caught a pass from quarterback Joe Flacco, but Clark knocked McGahee unconscious. The Steelers punched a ticket to the Super Bowl in Tampa with a 23-14 victory.

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      On November 5, 2007, the Steelers romped to a 38-7 victory. Ward leveled Ed Reed with a huge block, knocking the Ravens safety out of the game. Ward also flattened linebacker Bart Scott, who said after the game that he wanted to “kill” the Steelers’ receiver.

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      [caption id="attachment_1189" align="alignright" width="230"]In Pittsburgh, everything purple is anathema. In fact, purple is outlawed. (Or should be.) In Pittsburgh, everything purple is anathema. In fact, purple is outlawed. (Or should be.)[/caption] Suggs has sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethisberger 16½ times, more than any other player in the league. Days before the Ravens beat the Steelers 23-20 on November 6, 2011, Suggs conceded that Roethlisberger was a great quarterback. But … “God can have his soul,” Suggs said. “But his (butt) belongs to me.”

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      During the Steelers’ 13-10 victory on December 5, 2010, Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata broke Roethlisberger’s nose during a sack. Big Ben had to walk off the field, using a towel to stop the bleeding.

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      During the Steelers’ 23-20 overtime win on September 29, 2008, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis hit Rashard Mendenhall so hard, the rookie running back suffered a season-ending broken shoulder. A few weeks later on Atlanta’s “2 Live Stews” radio show, Suggs suggested the Ravens had a bounty on Ward and Mendenhall. But he backed off that boast, claiming it was a joke.

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      Even the coaches have gotten into the act. The Steelers’ Mike Tomlin was fined $100,000 for his actions in a November 2013 game. Tomlin drifted onto the field during Jacoby Jones’ kickoff return that had touchdown written all over it.  Jones had to slow down and veer away from the sideline and was tackled. But the Ravens won 22-20, thwarting a Steelers’ two-point conversion in the final minute.

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      Harbaugh didn't endear himself to Tomlin in the 2011 season opener. Baltimore scored 21 seconds into the second half to take a 27-7 lead, then ran a fake on the extra point. Holder Sam Koch scored on the two-point conversion to make it 29-7. The Ravens went on to win, 35-7.

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      There was a contentious handshake that was captured on video in 2012, with Baltimore’s John Harbaugh trying to congratulate his counterpart. Tomlin tried to brush it off, but Harbaugh grabbed his hand and tugged hard, bringing him back to say something face to face. Tomlin then walked away. The back story on that was a locker room clip of Harbaugh praising his team after its 13-10 win at Heinz Field on November 18, 2012. “The toughest team won that football game. The mentally tough team won that football game,” Harbaugh said. “The better team won the football game. “The team that knows how to win won that football game.” Typical locker room stuff, but Tomlin didn’t like it. So when the Steelers ended the Ravens’ 15-game home winning streak a few weeks later, he was in no mood for handshakes and pats on the shoulder. Both coaches have insisted there is nothing personal between them. [caption id="attachment_1190" align="alignleft" width="252"]This pretty much sums it up for Baltimore re. the Steelers. This pretty much sums it up for Baltimore re. the Steelers.[/caption] “Not personally, but professionally, he wants the same things that I want,” Tomlin said in January before the teams’ last playoff game. “He appears to be similarly as committed to it as I am, so we’re going to have problems. “He’s a good guy, but when we step into the stadium, we’ve got business, and that business is not the same.” Harbaugh agreed. “We have a little fun together,” Harbaugh told NBC’s Bob Costas. “We go to the owners meetings and laugh a little bit, but in the end we do want the same thing.” Both coaches preach hard-nosed football, and neither team will back down. With Roethlisberger out for several weeks after suffering a sprained MCL in his left knee last Sunday, he will be replaced by Michael Vick. That will create an interesting twist for tonight’s game -- Vick's mobility against an aggressive Ravens defense. It's likely to create a new chapter in the rivalry, particularly if Vick shines.  

      Happy Birthday, Minnesota Vikings! A #TBT Trip Down Memory Lane

      [caption id="attachment_1013" align="alignright" width="204"]Minnesota Vikings T-Shirt Today marks the 54th anniversary of the Minnesota Vikings' first game. Happy birthday, Vikings. Maybe one day you'll clutch the Lombardi Trophy. Until then, there's always beer.[/caption] By Bob D'Angelo, Smack Zone Contributor What will a Minnesota Vikings fan do after his team wins the Super Bowl? He’ll turn off his PlayStation 4. That joke might seem harsh, but a Vikings’ Super Bowl victory still remains elusive. Despite 27 playoff appearances, 18 division titles, nine conference final appearances, four conference titles, an NFL title and four Super Bowl appearances, the Vikings’ trophy case still lacks a Vince Lombardi Trophy. Even though they have won plenty of games, have scores of memorable moments and are well represented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Vikings have shown a penchant for weird safeties, bizarre finishes and heartbreaking losses, too. But oh, what a debut. On September 17, 1961, rookie quarterback Fran Tarkenton came off the bench, threw four touchdowns and ran for another as the Vikings stunned the Chicago Bears 37-13. A rookie throwing four touchdowns in his team’s opening game wouldn’t happen again until last Sunday, when Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota threw four — in the first half! — against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tarkenton’s performance might have been 1961’s highlight. First-year coach Norm Van Brocklin lamented that he had “36 stiffs,” a blunt yet astute observation that was borne out by a 3-11 record. ‘The Most Interesting Thing’ Even great players blundered. Future Hall of Famer Jim Marshall scooped up a Billy Kilmer fumble in an October 24, 1964, game against the 49ers and ran 66 yards — the wrong way. Marshall reached the end zone and tossed the ball, giving the 49ers a safety. Van Brocklin reportedly told the embarrassed Marshall that he “did the most interesting thing in this game today.” Marshall redeemed himself later. His sack caused a fumble that teammate Carl Eller returned for a touchdown, giving Minnesota a 27-22 victory. That helped Minnesota to its first winning season, an 8-5-1 mark. Speaking of safeties, the Vikings allowed the first one in Super Bowl history. In Super Bowl IX, Dave Osborn fumbled and Tarkenton covered the ball in the end zone, with Pittsburgh’s Dwight White getting credit for the tackle.  That gave the Steelers a 2-0 lead, and they would win the game 16-6. On November 5, 1989, the Vikings beat the Los Angeles Rams 23-21 at the Metrodome. Minnesota got seven field goals from Rich Karlis and won in overtime when Mike Merriweather blocked a Rams' punt that went out of the end zone for a safety. ‘A Terrible Waste’ [caption id="attachment_1014" align="alignleft" width="265"]Minnesota Vikings T-Shirt They haven't won a Super Bowl, but the Vikings don't lack for rivals.[/caption] The Vikings were on the wrong end of the most famous Hail Mary pass in NFL history. On December 28, 1975, in a first-round playoff game at Metropolitan Stadium, Minnesota led Dallas 14-10 with 32 seconds left and the Cowboys at midfield. Roger Staubach underthrew a pass to Drew Pearson, who pushed off Vikings safety Nate Wright, caught the ball on his hip and scored with 24 seconds to play. No flag was thrown. The best throw — and most unfortunate one — came moments later, when a fan hurled a full bottle of Jack Daniel’s and hit field judge Armen Terzian, the official who was closest to the controversial play, in the back of the head, knocking him unconscious. A shameful act — and a terrible waste of good liquor. More tragically for Tarkenton, his father, Rev. Dallas M. Tarkenton Sr., suffered a heart attack during the third quarter while watching the game on television at his Savannah, Georgia, home. The elder Tarkenton lost consciousness and died that day. Not everything has been dark for the Vikings. Tarkenton, the league MVP during that ill-fated 1975 season, became the first Minnesota player elected to the Hall of Fame, getting the call in 1986. He retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yardage (47,003), completions (3,686) and touchdown passes (342). ‘Purple People Eaters’ The Vikings had one of the top defenses in the NFL during the late 1960s and 1970s — the “Purple People Eaters.” Marshall, Eller, Alan Page and Gary Larson helped the Vikings reach three Super Bowls in four seasons. Marshall, Eller and Page all were inducted into the Hall of Fame.  In 1971, Page became the first defensive player to be named the league’s MVP. On Thanksgiving Day in 1969 against Detroit at Tiger Stadium, Marshall and Page used deft teamwork for a defensive touchdown. Page tipped a Greg Landry pass that Marshall intercepted. As Marshall was being tackled, he lateraled to Page, who completed the return for a touchdown, giving Minnesota a 24-0 lead; the Vikings won, 27-0. [caption id="attachment_1015" align="alignright" width="165"]The Vikings don't always win the Super Bowl, but ... wait. The Vikings NEVER win the Super Bowl. Stay hungry, my friends. The Vikings don't always win the Super Bowl, but ... wait. The Vikings NEVER win the Super Bowl. Stay hungry, my friends.[/caption] To prove that wasn’t a fluke, Marshall showcased his lateraling skills in 1970 against the Kansas City Chiefs. It was a Super Bowl IV rematch — the heavily favored Vikings were shocked by the Chiefs in the final NFL-AFL Super Bowl several months earlier — Marshall recovered a fumble, then lateraled to Roy Winston, who completed the 36-yard touchdown play. That gave the Vikings a 10-0 lead, and Minnesota won, 27-10. The Vikings even have their own version of a Hail Mary pass — the “Miracle at the Met.” On December 14, 1980, the Vikings trailed the Cleveland Browns by a point with 14 seconds left. Tommy Kramer got the Vikings to the Cleveland 46 thanks to a hook-and-lateral play. Kramer then tossed a desperation pass as time expired. Three Browns leaped for the ball, but tipped it to Vikings receiver Ahmad Rashad, who caught the pass and backpedaled across the goal line for the game-winning score in a 28-23 victory that clinched an NFC Central title for Minnesota. ‘Oh-and-Four’ The Vikings have a Hall of Fame coach, Bud Grant, who led the team to four Super Bowl appearances. That first Super Bowl loss was considered an upset, but the Vikings were underdogs when they lost Super Bowl VIII (to Miami), IX (to Pittsburgh) and XI (t0 Oakland). Center Mick Tinglehoff became the latest Viking inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he was enshrined in August. He joins Tarkenton, Page, Grant, Marshall, Eller, Paul Krause, former GM Jim Finks, Ron Yary, Randall McDaniel, John Randle, Chris Doleman and Cris Carter. Running back Adrian Peterson had a monumental season in 2012, rushing for 2,097 yards — the second best rushing season in NFL history behind Eric Dickerson’s 2,105 yards in 1984. In 2009, longtime Vikings nemesis Brett Favre joined Minnesota and threw for 4,202 yards and 33 touchdowns. For added measure, he beat his former team — the Green Bay Packers — twice that year, including a four-touchdown masterpiece at Lambeau Field. ‘An Amazing Dream’ Still, Vikings fans dwell on the what-could-have been scenarios. The 1998 squad went 15-1 during the regular season (losing only to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), crushed Arizona in the divisional round but lost 30-27 in overtime to Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game. Gary Anderson missed his first field goal attempt of the season, a 38-yarder, late in the fourth quarter. The Falcons tied the game in the final minute and won with 11:52 left in OT Morten Anderson’s 38-yard field goal. The 2009 team also lost an NFC title game in overtime, falling 31-28 to New Orleans at the Superdome despite three touchdowns by Adrian Peterson. Favre’s interception late in the fourth quarter helped send the game to overtime. Not a laughing matter, but Vikings jokes still flourish. What did the Vikings fan say after his team won the Super Bowl? “Why did you wake me up? I was having an amazing dream!”

      The Top 10 NFL Rivalries

      By Bob D'Angelo, Smack Zone Contributor Bears-Packers RivalryAnother NFL regular season kicks off tonight, rekindling some longtime clashes that bear watching this season. Pun intended. The Bears and Packers renew their feud Sunday at Soldier Field. So here’s a look at our top 10 NFL rivalries, past and present. Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers The two teams first met November 27, 1921, when Chicago blanked the Packers 20-0. Chicago leads the series 93–91–6. They have played each other twice in the postseason. A week after Pearl Harbor, the Bears won 33-14 in the 1941 semifinals to avenge their only loss of the season. The Packers prevailed 21-14 in the 2010 NFC title game to reach Super Bowl XLV. This is a quirky series. Remember defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry scoring a touchdown for the Bears on “Monday Night Football” in 1985? Then there was Green Bay kicker Chester Marcol in 1980, who tried a game-winning field goal attempt in overtime. The ball was blocked and bounced back to Marcol, who sprinted around the left side for the game-winning score in a 12-6 decision. Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins Cowboys-Redskins RivalryThis rivalry began before the Cowboys were a gleam in original owner Clint Murchison Jr.’s eye. Murchison nearly had a deal to buy the Redskins from owner George Preston Marshall for $600,000 in the late 1950s, but Marshall wrecked the deal by changing the contract terms. Marshall also tried to block the formation of the Cowboys franchise when the NFL considered expanding to Dallas for the 1960 season. Oh, yeah. There were some contentious games, too. On Thanksgiving Day in 1974, Cowboys rookie quarterback Clint Longley replaced the injured Roger Staubach and threw two TD passes for an improbable 24-23 win. In 1991, Washington was 11-0 until losing 24-21 to Dallas, but the Redskins still won the Super Bowl that year. In 1989, the Cowboys went 1-15. Their lone victory? A 13-3 win against Washington. The Redskins reached their first two Super Bowls (after the 1972 and ’82 seasons) by defeating Dallas in the NFC Championship Game. Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders This rivalry no longer has the intensity it did when both teams were powerhouses in the old AFL in the 1960s.  But boy, could these teams hit. Kansas City has won two of three postseason games against the Raiders. The most significant one was the final AFL Championship Game in January 1970, when the Chiefs intercepted four passes and engineered a 17-7 upset that sent K.C. into Super Bowl IV. What Chiefs quarterback threw for the most yards against the Raiders? Elvis Grbac, who passed for 504 yards at Oakland in 2000. It wasn’t enough: the Raiders won, 49-31. Ravens-Steelers RivalrySteelers vs. Ravens This series defines toughness. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are AFC North rivals who have met four times in the postseason, with the Steelers winning three times. The Ravens finally broke through in January 2015, winning 30-17. Intense? Steelers coach Mike Timlin was fined $100,000 in 2013 for interference on Jacoby Jones’ kickoff return that had touchdown written all over it.  But the Ravens won 22-20, thwarting a Steelers’ two-point conversion in the final minute. Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings This series began in 1961 when the Vikings entered the league, but the rivalry heated up when former Packers quarterback Brett Favre joined Minnesota in 2009 — and beat Green Bay twice, including a four-touchdown torching in his return to Lambeau Field. They have met in the playoffs twice. The Vikings stunned the Packers 31-17 in a wild-card game at Lambeau during the 2004 postseason. Randy Moss “shined,” scoring two touchdowns and giving Packers fans a pantomime mooning after his second TD grab in the fourth quarter put the game away. The Packers won the other meeting 24-10 eight years later to the day in another wild-card game. Seahawks-49ers RivalrySan Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks This is one of the NFL’s newer rivalries. Since the Seahawks joined the NFC West in 2002, Seattle has won 16 of 27 meetings. The signature game was the 2013 NFC Championship Game, when Seattle held off San Francisco 23-17. The game ended when Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman tipped away a pass in the end zone. Sherman then blasted 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree in a memorable postgame TV interview. New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles This rivalry began in 1933 and has featured big plays and miracle finishes. There’s “The Hit,” when Chuck Bednarik leveled Frank Gifford with a crunching tackle that forced a fumble. The Eagles recovered, taking another step toward the 1960 NFL title. Gifford was knocked out of action for 18 months. Then there was the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” in 1978, when quarterback Joe Pisarcik just needed to take a knee to run out the clock. The Giants led 17-12 with 31 seconds left when Pisarcik fumbled the snap. Herman Edwards picked up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown, helping the Eagles earn a wild-card berth. In 1988, the Eagles had forced overtime and had lined up for a game-winning field goal. Luis Zendejas’ kick was blocked, but he picked it up and lateraled to lineman Clyde Simmons, who scored a touchdown. Dolphins vs. Jets Miami and New York have played some classics. The greatest might have been Dan Marino’s fake spike in 1994 that capped Miami’s comeback from a 24-6 deficit. With Miami at the Jets’ 8, Marino signaled he would spike the ball to stop the clock. Instead, he threw a TD dart to Mark Ingram with 22 seconds left to give the Dolphins a 28-24 victory. The 1982 AFC Championship Game is the only postseason meeting between the two division rivals, and it was notable for an Orange Bowl turned into a quagmire by heavy rains the week of the game. Miami intercepted Richard Todd five times, with A.J. Duhe swiping three passes. His 35-yard pick for a touchdown sealed Miami’s 14-0 win and sent the Dolphins to Super Bowl XVII. In 1986, Marino and Ken O’Brien combined for 884 passing yards and 10 touchdowns, with Marino throwing six. But O’Brien’s four TDs went to Wesley Walker, who tied the game with his third scoring catch and won the game in overtime with TD No. 4 in a 51-45 final. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns Brown-Steelers RivalryThe “Turnpike Rivalry” has mirrored the hard-nosed image of both blue-collar cities. Ask quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who was lifted and spiked into the turf by Joe “Turkey” Jones in a 1976 game. The teams first met in 1950 when the Browns won 30-17 at Pittsburgh. Cleveland dominated the first 20 years of the series, but Pittsburgh took control when both teams were moved into the AFC in 1970. Even when the Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens, Cleveland’s “new” Browns feuded with Pittsburgh. Cleveland running back William Green and Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter traded punches during pregame warm-ups in 2004. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Dallas Cowboys OK, it’s not a traditional rivalry, but it deserves to be here for producing two of the most memorable Super Bowls, both won by Pittsburgh during the 1970s. The rosters of both teams were littered with Hall of Famers. Dallas got some payback in Super Bowl XXX, beating the Steelers 27-17.