Hits keep coming for Steelers, Ravens

Published Jan. 12, 2011 12:00 a.m. EST

We don’t know what the final score will be in Saturday’s AFC divisional playoff game at Pittsburgh. But we can already make a pretty good guess at the ultimate outcome of the Ravens and the Steelers going at it: You know, it’ll be the usual litany of postconcussion symptoms.

Nausea. Irritability. Anxiety. Depression. Blurred vision. And, most of all, a horrific, searing headache.

And that’s just NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

In what NFL historians will someday call The Year of the Helmet-to-Helmet Hit, after a season of emphasizing concussion safety and talk of cutting down the violence, this matchup is the NFL’s worst nightmare.


After Goodell did all he could this season to steer the discussion toward making the game safer, here comes Steelers-Ravens III. (We even call it Steelers-Ravens III, like Roberto Duran is involved or something.)

I’ve been asked if, with all the emphasis on helmet-to-helmet and other violence, these two teams might tone it down for this game. Or alter from their usual strategies or even just play a little differently? Ummmmmmmmmmmm . . . no.

No. These are two teams that clearly did not get the memo.

If anything, they’re shoving the game’s brutality in our faces. They’re not letting us off the hook with too-good-to-be-true talk about how pro football can be civilized. If anything, they’re going overboard with their rhetoric — as if to say, “This is what the game is about. Deal with it.”

Not only are they acknowledging the sport’s violence, not only are they reveling in it, not only are they celebrating it, but they also are guaranteeing it!

Suddenly, Steelers-Ravens III has become “Rocky III.” It seems as if half of each team’s 53-man roster has channeled his own inner Clubber Lang. (“Prediction? Paiiiiiiiin.”)

"I think it's going to be World War III," Ravens safety Dawan Landry said in the wake of his team’s win over Kansas City in the wild-card round.

“It’s like two gunfighters,” Steelers corner Bryant McFadden told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"It's going to be a bloodbath," Ravens guard Ben Grubbs said, "a train wreck."

A train wreck. Yes, one way or another, it will be that.

You can imagine Goodell cringing with every sound bite. His headache has already started. No, these guys are not going along with his theme for this season, no matter how many fines his office has levied.

Yes, Steelers linebacker James Harrison allegedly pondered retirement at the thought that his manner of knocking the (bleep) out of people was frowned upon at the league offices. He’s been docked $100,000 this season. But he seems to have gotten over it.

They all seemed to have gotten over it. Memo? What memo?

And now this?

It's a "Gentlemen, get out your checkbooks" situation. Heck, the NFL could conceivably reach its budget for charitable giving thanks to fines from this game.

Of course, it also shows once and for all the hypocrisy of the whole thing. Because after an entire season of telling us this is not what the NFL wants to see, now, OF COURSE this is what we all want to see.

Ratings will be through the roof. Book it. I myself plan to go down to the nearest sporting-goods store to buy a good form-fitting mouthguard so I can watch this thing in HD.

The only thing soft about this game is Troy Polamalu’s hair. (It’s luxurious! Have you seen those shampoo commercials?)

Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs greeted the media Wednesday wearing a T-shirt that gave Pittsburgh the finger!

(Suggs would go on to say he wasn’t sending the Steelers any particular message. It was just the shirt he put on that morning. If it's true, it's even better. He just happened to have a shirt in his closet that gives Pittsburgh the finger!)

Hines Ward — my favorite player — hates the Ravens. An entire area code hates Ward. These two teams are going to run into each other like freight trains Saturday. And they’re not going to let us pretend that pro football is anything but brutally violent. And that we love it so.

So much for the NFL’s new leaf.

Suggs is talking about Armageddon. His coach, John Harbaugh, noted this week that the A-word is a Biblical reference to the end of the world.

"I'm hopeful that it doesn't take place on Saturday,” Harbaugh said.

No one hopes that more than Goodell. With the number and the violence of the hits to come, it’s likely that handfuls of players could have headaches after this one. But you couldn’t blame the commish if he’s the one with the aspirin bottle on his desk.