The Designed Rush, Week 13: Where is the Hate We Once Had?

This Sunday, I got a press credential from Sporting News to attend the Steelers-Ravens game. It's the first time I've watched an NFL game from the press box, but that's not why I went. No, like the other times I've ventured to Baltimore-Pittsburgh games, it's to observe firsthand the Grand Guignol that is the rancorous interaction between Steelers and Ravens fans. Because, in case you hadn't heard, they kind of don't like one another. ↵
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↵And this game seemed to have been ideal to take in some of the most toxic hatred yet, with its being the first meeting between the two in the city of the team that was on the wrong end of a three-game sweep last season. Naturally, the white-hot flames of loathing would be stoked into a wondrous conflagration of nasty behavior. ↵

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↵Yet it was all somehow shockingly tepid. ↵

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↵Sure, there were the rote trappings of dislike (seemingly every other Ravens fan had one of these oh-so clever middle finger shirts on) and some scattered trash talking, but I've seen it much more heated in the past. Perhaps with Ben Roethlisberger already announced as being out, the expectation of a Ravens win quieted fans on both sides. Possibly the fact that both teams are only clinging to playoff hopes at the moment has made the mood more collectively somber. I'm not sure. But I walked around the parking lots and blocks surrounding M&T Bank Stadium for three hours and saw as little conflict as I ever have seen before a meeting between these teams, save for maybe in 1998 when they were still relatively new to one another. In fact, the only overtly hostile shouting match I witnessed involved a Redskins fan in a LaRon Landry jersey and two Ravens fans. I'm certainly not saying there need to be parking lot brawls for a football rivalry to be worthwhile, only that I was shocked at the almost neighborly behavior I observed. ↵

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↵Weirder still, I must have run across at least a dozen inter-fanbase couples strolling around. Into what parallel universe had I stumbled? I ventured conversation with a dog and tested whether my laptop would propel me skyward, but nothing happened. It appeared I was in the same universe I had always inhabited. ↵

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↵Neutral observers could take positives away from the way people don't get worked up in a deranged way over a football game, but I will remain disturbed. ↵

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↵Five Games to Watch Even If You Don't Have a Rooting Interest or Fantasy Players Involved ↵

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↵Minnesota at Arizona (8:20 p.m., Sunday) -- ↵

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↵This game certainly becomes less intriguing should Kurt Warner remain sidelined by post-concussion symptoms. Matt Leinart played serviceably in relief of Warner against the Titans Sunday, but serviceable probably won't get it done against the Vikes. It was this time last year that Brett Favre began his rapid descent into wretchedness, failing to log a QB rating above 61.4 after Week 12 in 2008. He can start putting those durability concerns to rest with another solid performance on the road in primetime. ↵

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↵Baltimore at Green Bay (8:30 p.m., Monday) -- ↵

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↵The Ravens had a far more difficult time than they probably should have putting away an injury-depleted Steelers team at home, but, so the saying goes, a win's a win. They're not out of the woods yet, though. Winning this game puts considerably less pressure on them to win a rematch with the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Aaron Rodgers has only been sacked three times in the last two games, the lowest amount over any two-game stretch this season. With Matt Ryan missing a game and Eli Manning's season possibly over, this is a great opportunity for the Packers to help secure their spot in the playoffs. ↵

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↵Tennessee at Indianapolis (1 p.m., Sunday) -- ↵

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↵The suddenly unbeatable Vince Young takes on the undefeated Colts. The scary thing about Indianapolis is that they're perfectly capable of being outplayed for 40 or 45 minutes and still winning. One might argue that's a risky model of success in the NFL, but you could have said the same thing about the Steelers propensity to wait until the last two minutes to come alive last season. ↵

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↵Houston at Jacksonville (1 p.m., Sunday) -- ↵

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↵The Jags didn't instill any confidence in their many doubters with the dud they laid against San Francisco. Nor did the Texans do themselves any favors by being unable to hold a 17-point lead against the Colts at home. ↵

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↵Dallas at New York Giants (4:15 p.m., Sunday) -- ↵

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↵As mentioned above, there's talk that Eli Manning's season could be over, and with it, the Giants' as well. Which is odd, because this is right around the time of year that the Cowboys begin their annual meltdown. Make it happen, David Carr. ↵

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↵NFL Player/Figure Tweet of the Week ↵

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↵"11-0 baby! Who Dat!" - Reggie Bush, early this morning ↵

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↵And what an immense contribution you've made to that unblemished mark, Reggie. I know it's a little hypocritical of me to say this given that I'm talking about him now, but the one irritating aspect of what is mostly a likable Saints team is how much undue attention Reggie Bush continues to receive. In a way, though, it's the best thing he could offer the team. Not only is he a decoy on the field, but off the field with the media as well. Why allow the media to distract significant contributors like Darren Sharper when Reggie Bush can keep the press horde occupied with his romantic misadventures? ↵

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↵Truth About Advertising ↵

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↵The Cowboys should really think about changing the line of cleats they use. Unless tearaway shoes are all the rage now and I missed it. ↵

↵I don't blame Starter for having Tony Romo endorse their products. Even if people frequently impugn his status as a top-flight quarterback, he still has considerable, if undue, star power. Just, I don't know. We need to fix that slogan at the end if you're gonna have Romo as spokesman. ↵

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↵"Never Stop ... Until December" ↵

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↵There. Much better. ↵

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↵Dispatches From Madden Nation ↵

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↵EA Sports released Madden NFL Arcade on Xbox Live and Playstation Network a day before Thanksgiving, enabling me to spend an extended weekend with it. On its face, it seemed destined to disappoint, cribbing as it does the style of the NFL Blitz games without the embrace of over-the-top violence that made Blitz so enjoyable. Still, I couldn't help getting sucked in. I've already played about 30 games since downloading it last week. While it is annoying that it has to come through the monopolistic EA Sports, it is nice to have a licensed 5-on-5 arcade-style counter to the simulation-heavy Madden games. ↵

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↵The power-ups are also a nice touch. Every few plays on both offense and defense, you're given a power-up at random that allows you to do such things as dramatically quicken or slow the pace of play, freeze one of the opponent's players, add an extra few pass rushers or blockers, force the ball carrier to always fumble when they're contacted or have it appear that your quarterback is throwing three passes at once so the defense doesn't know the actual throw until it reaches its target. The power-ups take one of the better features of Mario Kart and put it in a football game. The only one that annoys me is the option to flip the score with your opponent. Say you're losing 7-14, you hit that and immediately you're up 14-7. Considering that standard games are decided by the first team to reach 30 points (another change to the Blitz formula that I like), this power-up presents too much of an opportunity to swing the game compared to the others. ↵

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↵A complaint unrelated to the quality of the game: I'm convinced that 90 percent of the people playing online always select the Titans. Irritating as it is, it makes sense. Running quarterbacks are always a huge asset in these games. It's the same reason Kordell Stewart was far more useful as an NFL Blitz QB than in real life. Still, I'd like some variety in opponents (this coming from a guy who always picks the Steelers). ↵

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↵A Delicious Bundle of Gripes ↵

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↵-- Rumors abound that Matt Moore could finally depose franchise killer Jake Delhomme at starter this week for the Panthers. Just remember, Matt, when throwing balls off Steve Smith's foot, make sure it doesn't deflect to the defense. ↵

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↵-- I really shouldn't take anything Peter King says seriously, but there's no way Chris Johnson isn't in the thick of the MVP race. King lists Brees, Favre, Manning, Brady and Rivers as his five most deserving of the award. And each makes a relatively good case, though Brady, especially after last night, would lose out to Johnson. Especially when you consider that the Patriots might not even equal the 11-5 record they notched last year with Brady absent. Most people are lavishing Vince Young with all the credit for the Titans turnaround. And while Young has played better than anyone expected, they're still a winless team if Johnson isn't in the lineup. ↵

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↵-- I don't even want to know what this Vikings kid would do to a Packers dummy. I think he's wearing that helmet for our protection. ↵

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↵-- Cris Collinsworth during the Sunday Night Football broadcast: "Ray Lewis is just killing these backs!" Careful Cris, witnesses don't last long in Baltimore. ↵

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↵-- Only the defensive genius of Bill Belichick could devise a package in which they leave a receiver completely uncovered 20 yards down the field. HE WAS JUST SETTING THE SAINTS UP FOR THE REMATCH! ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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