For all the trash-talking between the Steelers and the Ravens leading up to Pittsburgh's miraculous 31-24, come-from-behind victory, Baltimore sure did handle the loss with a lot of grace. Here's head coach John Harbaugh, who opened his post-game remarks (video) with praise for the Steelers and a really healthy perspective on the disappointing end to a very accomplished Ravens season:
"Obviously, congratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They just won a heck of a football game here, and hats off to 'em. It was a heck of a comeback, and they earned it. I'm very disappointed for our guys and our team, but [I'm] proud of 'em, nonetheless ... [I don't have] regrets. I'm proud of our football team. [I'm] grateful for the opportunity to play in a football game like this ... All you can do in life is take a shot at being great ... Our guys did that all year. We just weren't great enough today to win that football game."
Hats off to Coach Harbaugh, too. Yes, he's "the enemy," (or whatever) but the dude is a class act and a very, very good football coach. The Steelers are a better team for having to go up against his squad two or three times a year.
Quarterback Joe Flacco also gave the Steelers a lot of credit for their win:
"We're both good football teams, and the bottom line is they're better at winning the game right now than we are. We need to improve, and we're not there yet. "
Even Terrell Suggs, who took trash-talking to a new stratosphere this week, was graceful in defeat:
"You gotta take your hat off to 'em ... Hines Ward and Ben [Roethlisberger], they know how to win playoff games. That's a veteran team over there, and we didn't put 'em away ... We have nobody to blame but ourselves. [The Steelers] get to go on and play in the AFC Championship and contend for a Super Bowl, and we go to the couch."
Although it's certainly cold comfort to the loud-mouthed pass rusher, Suggs played an amazing game yesterday, as per his usual, sacking Roethlisberger three times and forcing a fumble that was recovered for a touchdown. Suggs will certainly be back to terrorizing Pittsburgh's offensive line next year.
Predictably, some of the choicest quotes came from Baltimore's centurion linebacker, Ray Lewis, who was borderline Confucian (video) in his philosophical remarks following the loss:
"The way we feel right now, somebody [is] gonna feel like that tonight, somebody [is] gonna feel like that tomorrow, somebody [is] gonna feel like that next week in the AFC Championship ... [whoever wins the Super Bowl], it's their year ... If it's your time, it's your time. If it's not, it's not."
Lewis also talked about wanting to teach his sons to deal with defeat in a healthy manner, by leading with example: "When you teach those lessons [of humility], you have to live by 'em yourself." He also expressed gratitude - rightfully so - at having the successful year that the Ravens had:
"For me to be in my fifteenth year, and for me to be able to fight with these guys ... for me to even be walking off this field, after my twelfth Pro Bowl, I give credit to [my team] for that. So hold your head up high."
Anyhow, I wanted to write about this not to rub the Ravens' collective nose in it, but to give exposure to something that doesn't get reported on nearly enough: good sportsmanship. All week we heard about how nasty and vociferous the Ravens-Steelers rivalry is, but that hatred is based on a foundation of mutual respect and - dare I say it - admiration. The Steelers are a good team, and the Ravens know it.
That goes both ways. Good season and great game, Baltimore. The Steelers will undoubtedly do their best to represent the AFC North - the best division in the league - in the AFC Championship. And of course they'll have Steelers-Ravens circled on next year's calendar, too. See you then, Baltimore.