Our rivalry series continues with this week’s match-up against the Steelers’ biggest rival of the current era, the Baltimore Ravens. In today’s interview, Ron spoke with former Ravens wide receiver Qadry Ismail, who played for the team from 1999-2001 and was a big part of their 2000 Super Bowl winning squad.
First, let me know a bit about what you’ve been doing since your retired from the NFL?
I’ve actually been working in the media since I retired in 2002 – for the WJZ-CBS affiliate in Baltimore covering Ravens games. I also work in sports performance training for people from ages eight to 74. Basically that, and being available to my three kids who all or who have been involved in sports in college.
So I get to be a busy father, enhance people’s lives, and work in the media.
How hard was that post-NFL adjustment for you?
Anyone that goes through doing something they’ve done for a long time and is passionate about to stopping feels something. I looked at it with the balance of knowing that it was all going to end – that I was prepared for it – but at the same time being depressed about it. I was talking to a psychologist and was telling her how I felt and she told me I was depressed. I thought, wow, I really was depressed. Who knew? It was difficult and challenging, and humbling,
In terms of the rivalry between Baltimore and Pittsburgh – you kind of signed into that rivalry as a free agent. What did the players in Baltimore tell you about the rivalry then?
Back then Jacksonville was formidable as well – so the focus was on them too. The city and fanbase grew into the Pittsburgh rivalry – the Ravens rivalry became bigger when it became the AFC North – those games then became slobberknockers between the two teams.
Who were the Steelers players you remember facing most?
For me and what my role was there, Dewayne Washington and Chad Scott were the guys. The Steelers liked to blitz a lot then and play man-to-man. I remember most the game I had that’s still a record for most yards against the Steelers. I felt like, for whatever reason, you chose to play me man-to-man on an island. I looked at that like a challenge. I was going to show them that they weren’t correct in their assessment of me.
That sounds very PC…
Absolutely. I am certainly trying to be on that one!
What worked so well for you in that game that you had such success?
The Steelers ran a single high safety during that game. Two of the three touchdowns I had that game were over 50 yards on skinny posts. We called it the Bang 8 route. I was able to beat Washington off the line of scrimmage and adjusted my route based on the coverage behind him. The safety took a b-line to my ribs and hit me but I was able to keep my balance an scored.
The second touchdown was a skinny post over 50 yards again. I adjusted my route again and the safety took a bad angle – a big, white guy – I forget his name…
Yes – that was him. He knocked the wind out of me but it wasn’t a good form tackle. He tried for the big hit and it worked in my favor. I loved the fact that I was able to take advantage of his misfortune. I think they cut him not long after that.
What do you think of the rivalry now?
Once it became the AFC North and Jacksonville was gone, I think the two teams looked at each other and said “It’s on. Let’s do this.”
The success of both teams added to it. I think the rivalry today is as big as any other college or NFL rivalry – year in and year out. There’s always something big in every game. When I was a broadcaster and went to Pittsburgh, I remember they played that Renegade song. I can’t stand that song! Well as soon as they played it, Harrison went on a tear and strip-sacked Joe Flacco.
Polamalu was always big – Ward’s hit on Ed Reed and JJ. Bart Scott’s killer sack, Ngata breaking Ben’s nose. Tucker making game-winning field goals at Heinz Field when no one could figure out how to kick there.Those games were all just awesome games to call – something was always happening. It wasn’t just two teams playing hard-nosed football. They were two very successful teams.
Steve Bisciotti wanted to model the Ravens after the Steelers. There was always a healthy level of respect as well as a healthy dislike for one another.
How do you see the NFLs approach to the game helping or hurting rivalries like this now?
It’s different now – you can’t do the things you used to be able to do. Ward and his blindside hits – you can’t have that happen any longer. You still get amazing plays like when Tony Jefferson stripped the tight end and recovered the fumble for a touchdown. There’s always something amazing in every game. It’s always an incredibly close game. And no matter what, it gives fans bragging rights to the winner and always holds a special place with players and fans.