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Savran: Winner tomorrow will get last word

Saturday, January 19, 2002

Everybody loves a winner. No matter the team, no matter the town, no matter the sport. You win and you're in. But there are degrees. You can quantify success.

Every NFL franchise city would enjoy watching the St. Louis Rams fastbreak their way to the Super Bowl, especially in places like Charlotte and Detroit, where getting two consecutive first downs gets the kids out of school and cancels mail delivery the next day.

But there are towns in this league that give extra credit for style points. Like Pittsburgh. And Oakland and Cleveland and Chicago. And yes, Baltimore.

There's a preferred topping for football a la mode in places like these -- winning by trampling an opponent, not dancing around them. If they could have their cake and devour it, too, fans in these towns not only want to beat an opponent, but beat them up.

Any franchise that wins four Super Bowls in six years is going to be more revered than Art Modell at a Benedict Arnold convention.

But the manner in which those Steelers teams did it -- mashing and bullying their way to victory -- mirrored the personality of the region, which added greatly to their popularity then, and their enduring legacy and legend now.

And that, for the competing cities and a good portion of the country, is the reason the Steelers-Ravens game is so greatly anticipated.

Like it or don't, the differences between Pittsburgh and Baltimore make them more the same. They like their football rough and tumble. While both would take a 38-34 victory, 16-13 would be preferable.

It's not much different than a pleasant Sunday afternoon at the Roman coliseum centuries ago. They wanted the Christians to win, all right. But they didn't terribly mind seeing the lions get a nice pound of flesh now and again.

And it extends beyond the two participating cities. Favre vs. Warner, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, all that stuff is great.

But there's a reason the Steelers-Ravens Sunday night game in December did so phenomenally well in the national television ratings. People still appreciate when the game is reduced to its fundamentals. Blocking and tackling and lip-numbing hits, delivered with an attitude and a snarl.

And have I mentioned that it never hurts when the participants have a genuine enmity for each another? A pinch of animus gives the mix a swell tangy taste.

Some of the players have actually taken it to heart. Certainly, the fans have. The honors of their respective teams have been challenged, and they, being one with their teams, have taken umbrage and risen to the defense.

Which is the way it should be.

Fans form an emotional bond with their team. In turn, the team's personality reflects its city.

It would be surprising if the Ravens are able to close the gates of Heinz Field for the season. While they were impressive last week, the level of competition must always be factored into the equation. Miami is soft and doesn't hold up against a physical challenge. These aren't fish the Ravens face tomorrow.

But the Ravens are capable. They'll try to manage the game. They'll punt and play defense. They'll lie in wait, hoping to make a defensive play to alter the course of the game.

Or pounce when they get a specific coverage to make a big offensive play to at least tilt the field in their favor, much as they did last week with a long pass to Travis Taylor.

Or hope to get some special teams yardage from Jermaine Lewis to aid their challenged offense.

They'll hang around and hang around and then you look up, and you've lost. Half of the Ravens' 10 regular-season wins came by virtue of fourth quarter comebacks.

This game is about an attitude, Neanderthal as it might be. There may be higher profile players on higher profile teams involved in higher profile games this weekend.

But stripping away as much provincialism as possible, this one tomorrow is the most anticipated game of the four.

The winners will have won it their way. And the losers, at least temporarily, will be obliged to shut up.

Stan Savran is a co-host for "Sportsbeat" at 6:30 p.m. weekdays on Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh.

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