'Here we go again': Titans, Ravens renew rivalry


It's either a showdown between two teams seeking to fortify their role as surprise contenders in the AFC. Or, for those with a keen sense of history, it's the renewal of a rivalry that once was as intense as any in the NFL.

Around the beginning of the new millennium, the Titans and Ravens ruled the AFC Central. They played twice a year, and in the 2000 season they met for a third time, in the playoffs after Tennessee won the division with a 13-3 record and Baltimore finished as a wild-card entrant.

Ray Lewis wrestled a short pass away from Eddie George and took the interception 50 yards for a touchdown in a 24-10 victory. Then the Ravens beat Kerry Collins and the New York Giants 34-7 in the Super Bowl.

Two seasons later, Tennessee got revenge by knocking Baltimore out of the playoffs.

The AFC Central is gone. So are George, Steve McNair and Brian Billick -- key figures in those Tennessee-Baltimore confrontations. But those Ravens who have been around a while will always remember the Titans.

"Those teams always come back up," Lewis said. "We were once in the division together to where we had one of the more classic rivalries, and now we're another type of rivals. They're playing great, great football over there, and we're playing good football. So here we go again."

Tennessee (4-0) is off to the best start in franchise history and one of only three unbeaten NFL teams. Baltimore (2-1) is playing far better than expected under first-year coach John Harbaugh and with rookie quarterback Joe Flacco.

So, even if these teams didn't have the past to refer to, the game would be important. But they do have a history, and those who were part of it can't let go.

Immediately after the Titans beat Minnesota last week, it was rumored that Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher openly declared his hatred for the Ravens.

"Jeff didn't say anything like that. Someone else did," said linebacker Keith Bulluck, a Titan since 2000.


"It was me," Bulluck said.

Back in the old days, Fisher and Billick, the outspoken Ravens coach, would match wits and trade barbs. Billick was fired after last season, and Harbaugh spoke with reverence this week about Fisher's accomplishments and longevity -- offering absolutely no fodder for the bulletin board in the Tennessee locker room.

"I miss the Billick and Fisher rivalry just because they usually take good shots at each other during the week. That was always fun," Bulluck said. "But to me, it's pretty much the same team; it all starts with defense."

Collins will vouch for that. It's been a long time since that Super Bowl defeat, but he won't ever forget how Lewis and the Ravens dominated the game. Now, as Tennessee's starting quarterback in place of the injured Vince Young, Collins can only hope for a better result Sunday.

"We're going on eight years now, so a lot of time has gone by, and certainly a lot of football has gone by since then," he said. "I certainly still have vivid memories of the game, most of which were not so good, but my hat's off to them. They were a good team, and a great defense."

Like Collins' recollection of that Super Bowl, some flashbacks don't fade with time. Tennessee safety Vincent Fuller didn't enter the NFL until 2005, yet the Baltimore native remembers when Titans-Ravens was like Hatfields-McCoys.

"The only difference between then and now, of course, was when I was in Baltimore I was rooting for the Ravens. This was when Ray Lewis was in year five, six and seven," Fuller said. "This is a rivalry. It seems as if they played the biggest playoff games of all time."

And now? "It's always a rivalry anytime we play each other. They don't like us, we don't like them," Fuller said. "It's going to be a physical ballgame. We know what their defense brings to the table, they know what our defense brings to the table. It's still a rivalry because both of these teams want to win bad."

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