Steel City Blues: Baltimore’s Sad History of Losing Big Games to Pittsburgh

29 Dec

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

It was an all-too familiar scene in the living room of my mother’s home in downtown Baltimore. I was shaking my head at yet another Baltimore loss in a big game to Pittsburgh.

In Sunday’s game, the Ravens beat themselves in a cavalcade of penalities and mistakes including a dropped pass in the end zone by veteran wide reciever Derrick Mason that would have put the Ravens ahead. Two Baltimore penalties took touchdowns off the board.

To me the Ravens 23-20 loss in a game that would have ended the defending champion Steelers playoff hopes convinces me of something that I believed for a long time—since 1971—Pittsburgh sports teams have owned Baltimore.

With few exceptions, Pittsburgh, whether you’re talking about the Pirates or the Steelers have always had Baltimore’s number in the big games—whether you’re talking about the World Series with the Orioles, the Colts in the playoffs during the mid-1970s, the Ravens in the 2000s, the result always seem to be the same—Pittsburgh wins, Baltimore loses.

The “Steel City” has been like kryptonite to “Charm City” in the athletic realm. I don’t know if it’s purely physical or metaphysical. I mean you can make all kinds of arguments that Pittsburgh teams have been better than Baltimore sports teams, which has been true more often than naught. You can say Baltimore has been unlucky in some respects.

Whatever it is or whatever one chooses to call it, Pittsburgh has a long history of sticking it to Baltimore in the big games.

Over the years, you’ve had the New York Yankees owning the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, beating them in five World Series during the 1950s. It’s a rare thing for the sports teams of one city to beat another city’s teams in one particular year. Oddly enough, Baltimore was on the losing end of that one, too.

Back in the calendar year of 1969, the New York Jets beat the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in January. In the spring of 1969, the Baltimore Bullets had the best regular season record in the NBA, but got swept by the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs. In October, the Mets beat an Orioles team that won 109 games in the 1969 World Series.

It was so bad that a comedian supposedly got on the Tonight Show that year and jokingly thanked Baltimore for New York’s great year in sports.

But Pittsburgh has had Baltimore’s number over time. The 1971 Orioles had the best record in baseball and four 20-game winners-Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson. The O’s were the defending World Series champions and rolled out to a 2-0 lead including an 11-3 win in game two of that series.

Unfortunately for the Birds, they just couldn’t stop the great Roberto Clemente, who hit safely in all seven games and batted .414. He hit a homerun in Game 7 that put the Pirates on top for good. After falling behind 2-0, Pittsburgh won four of the next five games, holding the Orioles to just seven runs.

Eight years later, the Baltimore Orioles came into the 1979 World Series with the best record in baseball with 102 wins under their belt. The Orioles had what looked to be an insurmountable 3-1 lead over the Pirates, but could not close the deal.

That’s because Wille Stargell batted .400 during the series with a record seven extra-base hits and because the Orioles scored just two runs over the final three games of that series with Eddie Murray going 0-for-21 during that stretch.

In Game 7, the Orioles, trailing 2-1, had the bases loaded with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning and a chance to break open the game. But Murray’s long fly ball deep to right field fell harmlessly into the glove of Dave Parker.

The Pirates and their fans, just as they did in 1971, danced on the soil of Memorial Stadium in front of stunned and disappointed Baltimore fans. Pittsburgh had gotten the best of old Charm City again.

Sandwiched between the Pirates World Series triumphs over Baltimore, the Steelers were sticking it to Baltimore as well in a pair of AFC Divisional Playoff games.

In 1975, the upstart Baltimore Colts won the AFC East, but had to face defending Super Bowl champion Steelers for a berth to the AFC title game. After the Colts took a 10-7 lead in the third quarter, the Steelers surged to a 21-10 lead. The Colts looking to make a comeback in the fourth quarter, drove the ball down to the Steelers 7.

Unfortunately for Baltimore, Steelers linebacker Jack Ham hit Colts quarterback Bert Jones from behind and jarred the ball loose. Andy Russell scooped it up for a 93-yard return for a touchdown to put the final nail in the coffin.

In 1976, the Colts finished 11-3 and had one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. More importantly, the young Colts had a year of playoff experience under their belt and the Steelers, who had to win their last nine games of the season to get into the playoffs after a 1-4 start, appeared to be a team on the decline.

With all the psychological advantages of revenge and the fact that they were playing at home in Baltimore, the Colts were still given a severe beat down by the Steelers in a 40-14 loss. The most enduring image of that loss was when airplane crashed into the upper deck of Memorial Stadium shortly after the game ended and the crowd had left the ball park.

In 2000, the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl and brought Charm City its first world championship since 1970. In 2001, the team that ended the Ravens championship reign in the AFC Divisional Playoffs—the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 27-10 win.

And then there was last season, the Steelers inexorable march to the Super Bowl included a pair of close wins over the Ravens -an overtime loss in Pittsburgh and a last second loss in Baltimore. The Ravens would see their season end with another loss to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Ravens and the Colts, when they were in Baltimore, have beaten the Steelers over the years in some meaningless regular season games here and there. But when a playoff berth or a championship is on the line, Pittsburgh has come out on top every time.

Last Sunday’s debacle in Pittsburgh in which Baltimore committed 11 penalities for 113 yards was the latest in what has become a never ending saga in which the Steel City comes out on top of the “City by the Bay.”

To quote the Talking Heads: “Same as it ever was.”

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