Bounty Game: Bad Blood for Steelers-Ravens Rematch

Steelers lineman Willie Colon predicts a bloodbath. Ben Roethlisberger anticipates both teams limping out of the stadium. Any player not covered in bruises on Sunday evening, Hines Ward says, won't have played hard enough.

There are talked-about rivalries in the NFL and real ones, and the dislike between the Ravens and Steelers isn't imaginary. Former Steelers safety Lee Flowers once compared it to a college rivalry because of its "straight, genuine hatred."

The intensity for Sunday's rematch was elevated when defensive end Terrell Suggs bragged the Ravens put a bounty on Rashard Mendenhall before Ray Lewis' hard hit Sept. 29 in Pittsburgh ended the Steelers' first-round draft pick's season.

The Steelers (10-3) were 23-20 overtime winners in perhaps the NFL's most physical game this season, but they were littered with injuries afterward. They expect Sunday's game to be no different, especially because the Ravens (9-4) can tie for the division lead by beating them in Baltimore for the sixth season in a row.

"It's going to be a physical ballgame. It always is," said Ward, who referred to himself Wednesday as the most hated man in Baltimore. "If you don't come out of this game black and blue, then you didn't do nothing out on the field."

There are bad blood games in the NFL, but also ones in which emotions run high and real blood is spilled. Asked what he expects, Colon said, "A bloodbath, yeah. ... It's not going to be pretty."

"I think a lot of guys are going to be limping out of there on both sides," Roethlisberger said. "I'm just hoping we're up on the scoreboard when we're limping out."

The Steelers didn't talk openly Wednesday about possible reprisals for the severe shoulder injury that ended Mendenhall's season. But they remember Lewis gesturing on the field that the running back was done. Mendenhall angered the Ravens by sending fellow rookie Ray Rice a text message that he expected a big game against Baltimore.

On an Atlanta radio show several days later, Suggs said there was a bounty on Mendenhall and Ward, the oft-physical wide receiver and a longtime Baltimore antagonist.

"We definitely like to send messages to rookie running backs who think they've made it. We did a good job of sending a message," Suggs said.

Suggs later said there wasn't a bounty, although the NFL investigated his comments.

"I can't say anything about him (Ward) this week because of the stuff that happened and because we're playing them," Suggs said Wednesday. "I'm being totally honest, I can't give you what you deserve (to hear)."


"You know how Roger is," Suggs said, a reference to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has stepped up the fining of NFL players for various transgressions.

Despite Suggs' reluctance to talk, Steelers linebacker James Farrior said, "(They) probably got a few more bounties on Hines this week. We're going to be ready for that."

Steelers tackle Max Starks questioned why the Ravens apparently need additional incentive to play Pittsburgh.

"In this day and age, if you happen to be a professional athlete, if you have to use bounties and all that other kind of stuff ... you have to go back and look at yourself," Starks said. "It's one of those things where you have to say something for the media to pay attention to you."

While the intensity and personality of the series don't change, the characters and their incendiary comments do.

Former Baltimore tight end Shannon Sharpe once derisively referred to ex-Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress as Plexiglas. Tony Siragusa, a former Pitt player, said Ravens fans should rough up Pittsburgh's. Lewis once doubted Jerome Bettis had the nerve to run directly at him.

Sharpe also ridiculed Burress for favorably comparing former Cincinnati linebacker Takeo Spikes to Lewis.

"That's like saying `Dude, Where's My Car' is just as good as Titanic,' " Sharpe said.

Former coaches Bill Cowher and Brian Billick didn't like each other, either.

When Billick noted how Baltimore kept a game close despite being badly outgained, Cowher said, "I learned this from Brian Billick -- you don't talk about statistics, because it means you're usually on the losing end of the game."

It must be a rivalry when the coaches beat the players to making bulletin board comments.

The Steelers have won four division titles and the Ravens two since the AFC North was created out of the former AFC Central in 2001. The only season that neither team won, 2005, Pittsburgh took the Super Bowl.

So what's this latest Steelers-Ravens chapter all about besides first place in the division? Mutiny against the bounty?

"They're all hated," Ward said of the Ravens. "Anybody in purple, they're hated. It's a respect, but there's no love for them. They're not inviting me to come out and eat crab cakes with them."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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