Though there are still several weeks to go before NFL training camps open, the projection of division winners has already begun. Most early season prognostications have the Pittsburgh Steelers as third best in their division behind the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and the up-and-coming Cincinnati Bengals.
Guessing the odds of division winners this early in the season is only for the psychic. Not a snap of real football has been played, and all four AFC North teams have rosters full of young players who don’t even know the playbook yet.
The one thing they do know is what each team has at the coaching position. With the exception of first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland, the AFC North has three veteran coaches at the lead. In fact, the North is notable for minimal turnover at the coaching position, featuring Marvin Lewis (10 years, Cincinnati), Tomlin (six years, Pittsburgh) and John Harbaugh (five years, Baltimore).
Harbaugh was hired as coach of Baltimore in 2008, just one year after the Steelers hired Tomlin. The 50-year-old Harbaugh has a favorable 54-26 (.675) regular-season record, plus a 9-4 mark in postseason play. His Ravens have won the AFC North division the last two seasons.
While the Steelers-Ravens rivalry has been around since the days of Brian Billick-Bill Cowher (and pre-dating the move of the original Browns to Baltimore), Harbaugh has done his best to intensify the hate. And neither Tomlin nor Harbaugh have done much to hide it.
After the Ravens won the first matchup in November 2010, Harbaugh yipped away to locker room cameras that the “toughest team….mentally toughest team…better team” won the game.
Tomlin had the “better team” ready for their next matchup and the Charlie Batch-led Steelers won with a late field goal 23-20. After the game, Tomlin quickly pushed past the extended handshake of Harbaugh. Obviously, Tomlin did not take too kindly to Harbaugh’s comments from the previous match.
HITS OF HYPOCRISY
When the crackdown on illegal high hits began and former Steelers linebacker James Harrison became the poster child for the movement, it was Harbaugh who publicly poked fun at him and others who “don’t get it.”
In an interview shown just hours before the Ravens’ December 5, 2010 matchup with the Steelers, Harbaugh spoke with NBC’s Bob Costas about NFL’s enforcement of hits to the head. Costas asked if he “agreed with players, including some from the Steelers, stating ‘We aren’t sure how the game is supposed to be played.’”
Harbaugh smugly responded, “No, it’s clear-cut how the game is supposed to be played. It’s not that hard to figure out. There is no question that our team understands and most of the league has figured it out, and shortly everybody will figure it out.”
They figured it out so well that a few hours later his top defensive lineman Haloti Ngata nailed Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with a blow to the face that broke his nose. Harbaugh later stated that he was ‘”glad about it.” There was no penalty on the field but Ngata did have to send a check in the mail for a $15,000 helmet-hit fine.
The hypocrisy didn’t stop there. Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain joined in the display of how the game is “supposed to be played” with perhaps the most vicious illegal hit of the notorious Ravens-Steelers rivalry. While in the process of making a third quarter catch, Steelers tight end Heath Miller was drilled backwards by a helmet-to-helmet hit by McClain.
Miller missed the next two games with a concussion and neck injury with the exact type of hit the new NFL policy was designed to eradicate. The hit did not draw a penalty (the game was in Baltimore) but McClain had to cover a $40,000 fine with the commissioner. Harbaugh decreed there was nothing “humanly possible that Jameel could have done to avoid” the collision.
There is also nothing you can do to avoid karma.