The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have produced vicious hits, dramatic finishes and now a historic matchup of head coaches.
In Sunday’s clash for first place in the AFC North, the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and the Ravens’ John Harbaugh will become the first pair of head coaches in the Super Bowl era to face off 25 times in the regular season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Before a Ravens-Steelers game not too long ago, Tomlin was talking to Harbaugh about their place in the lore of one of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries.
“We’ll be tied together forever by this,” Tomlin told Harbaugh.
Tomlin and Harbaugh will break a tie with two other longtime coaching matchups: Tomlin-Marvin Lewis and Sid Gillman-Hank Stram.
Harbaugh holds a 13-11 edge over Tomlin in the regular season since their first meeting in 2008. It has been a closely contested series that has resulted in two-thirds of the games being decided by four points or fewer, including four overtime games.
“I think in moments like this or in the offseason and things of that nature, you get an opportunity, maybe, to appreciate it,” Tomlin said of coaching against Harbaugh. “But I think much like him, in the moment, they’re nameless, gray faces on the other sideline, man. You’re just so caught up in the strategy or the decisions that need to be made. When you’re playing good people, it’s paramount that you play [well].”
There are only two head-coaching matchups in NFL history that eclipse Tomlin-Harbaugh. George Halas and Curly Lambeau met 48 times, and Lambeau and Steve Owen coached against each other 28 times.
Hired in 2007, Tomlin has a 139-74-1 (.652) record in the regular season with one Super Bowl championship and six AFC North titles. A year later, Harbaugh joined the Ravens, totaling a 123-75 (.621) record with one Super Bowl title and four division championships.
“They stay true to themselves, and that’s what they’re all about,” Harbaugh said. “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.”
Harbaugh has joked that he and Tomlin were always destined to be on opposite sides because he was a defensive back in college and Tomlin was a wide receiver. While they are not close friends, they do share a mutual admiration for one another as well as a love of Michigan football.
Tomlin and Harbaugh are among four head coaches who’ve been with the same team for over the past 12 years. Bill Belichick (Patriots) and Sean Payton (Saints) are the others.
“You know what the Ravens games are about,” Tomlin said. “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.”