PITTSBURGH — Well, that didn't take long.
The predictable yet acrimonious verbal sparring between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers has begun anew, with Steelers safety Lee Flowers saying the two rivals don't just dislike each other but share a mutual hatred.
"This is straight, genuine," Flowers said Monday. "We both know each other very well and it's hatred, it's hatred."
Flowers' comments followed the Steelers' first practice before Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game against Baltimore. They were prompted by Ravens linebacker Jamie Sharper's suggestion after a 20-3 playoff victory Sunday in Miami that Steelers running back Jerome Bettis would be smart to sit out Sunday.
Bettis, who has missed five games with a groin injury, was visibly annoyed with Sharper's remark, saying, "That is part of their game and I understand it, but we feel confident we can go out there and win the football game."
Unlike some NFL teams, who joust verbally but then forget the remarks as soon as a game ends, the exchanges between the Ravens and Steelers have gotten increasingly more heated and personal.
The Ravens initially became agitated when receiver Plaxico Burress predicted following Baltimore's 13-10 victory in Pittsburgh on Nov. 4 that the Steelers would dominate the rematch in Baltimore.
That prompted Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe to refer derisively to Burress as "Plexiglas." All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis also expressed anger at Bettis' casual comment that Cincinnati linebacker Takeo Spikes compared favorably to him.
Even the coaches eventually got into it, with the Ravens' Brian Billick pointing out he's never lost in Pittsburgh. Bill Cowher responded in kind following Pittsburgh's 26-21 victory Dec. 16 that he's won his last five in Baltimore.
The Steelers statistically dominated the earlier games, outgaining the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens 348-183 on Nov. 4 and 476-207 on Dec. 16 — a combined edge of 824-390. But Pittsburgh lost the first game when Kris Brown missed four field goals.
"Actually, it's kind of comical," Flowers said. "It's funny sometimes to see the stuff that comes out of Baltimore because every time we play them, it's something different. They're supposed to be a team that didn't lose in December, and they lost in December, so now they're a new team in January."
Steelers tackle Wayne Gandy said the game itself is important enough that neither team needs any additional motivation.