Games between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are often close and always notoriously fierce. The intensity is heightened this week with the Steelers being 6-0 and the Ravens being 5-1, and with AFC North supremacy on the line.
Throw in the fact that history will be made between Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, and Sunday’s 1 p.m. ET showdown in Baltimore has the makings of one of the most memorable clashes in recent memory.
Sunday’s iteration of the rivalry will pit Harbaugh and Tomlin against each other for the 25th time in the regular season, the most of any coaching matchup in the Super Bowl era, according to Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN). Harbaugh holds a 13-11 edge, dating back to the coaches’ first meeting in 2008. Two-thirds of the games have been decided by four points or fewer, including four overtime games.
“They stay true to themselves, and that’s what they’re all about,” Harbaugh told ESPN about the Steelers. “So, that’s a mark of a heck of a coach, and obviously Coach Tomlin is one of the best, and we have great respect for everything they do.”
Tomlin was hired by the Steelers in 2007 to replace legendary Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher, and he’s more than filled his shoes. Tomlin has amassed a 139-74-1 record with one Super Bowl victory and six AFC North titles.
A year later, Harbaugh was given the reins in Baltimore and has compiled a 123-75 record with a Super Bowl title and four AFC North championships of his own.
“You know what the Ravens games are about,” Tomlin told ESPN. “They are a top-notch organization and football team. They have talent across the board. They’re familiar with us. We’re familiar with them.
“There’s continuity within schematics and both staffs and core players and things, and I think that’s what adds to the intrigue. We should anticipate it being a physical and rough-and-tumble game because history tells us that, and how the two teams are playing this year also gives you that indication.”
Harbaugh and Tomlin coach teams on opposite sides of a heated rivalry at the highest level of the sport. Yet the two have more in common than might first meet the eye. They have similar organizational approaches, similar on-field success and similar longevity.
And the two coaches share a faith in God.
Harbaugh told Athletes in Action in April that the prolonged sports hiatus amid the COVID-19 pandemic helped him to slow down and recognize God’s power.
“I really feel like God is trying to get each of our attention, and I feel like He does it in an individual kind of a way just like He does everything,” he said at the time.
During the interview, Harbaugh pointed to Philippians 4 and Joshua 1 as examples of Biblical principles he is trying to apply to his life right now.
“It’s all God-willing,” Harbaugh said. “It’s all according to God’s will, and He’ll take delight in our plans if we are fully immersed in His will for us.”
Tomlin has also spoken about his faith during his time with the Steelers. He gave a talk at a ManUp conference in Pittsburgh this past June in which he discussed the pandemic, racial issues and the harmful effects of fatherlessness.
“I challenge this group, this ManUp group 2020,” he said, “to make an impact, to touch the lives of the fatherless in your communities, to be active participants in enriching their lives in a godly way.”
You can watch Tomlin’s full speech here: https://youtu.be/eHAlZFl6J1Y
In 2018, Tomlin told the UNPACKIN’ it podcast: “I’m not that good. None of us are. There’s got to be a bigger calling, right? We’re put in these positions for very specific reasons … (so) every day I ask, ‘What does God have in store for me? How does He want to utilize me in this position that I hold in an effort to do good?’”