When the topic is Pittsburgh Steelers versus Las Vegas Raiders, it’s as much about the past as the present.
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr knows that, which is the reason this week he actually referenced the Immaculate Reception from 1972.
“That ball touched the ground,” Carr said only half-kiddingly. “We’ve had our fair share of battles in my career too, which is fun for me to have a little bit of history in that rivalry.
“You grow up and you watch all the NFL Films videos and then you go out and watch Rich Gannon and Terrelle Pryor take a 90-yarder down the middle right before I got here. There’s so many memories and things like that.
“But just crazy memories when you think about these two teams, and I’m blessed that I get to live a life where I get to be a part of that. As a football fan, I’m honored that I get to even step on the field at Heinz Field and get to play against these guys. It’s cool for me as a fan, but as a competitor you want to do well and win the game.”
Raiders versus Steelers was a big deal in the 1970s.
And when these two play on Sunday they’ll come to the game undefeated after stirring season-opening victories — the Steelers with an upset at the Buffalo Bills and the Raiders having beaten the Baltimore Ravens in overtime on Monday Night.
So the stakes in this game are significant.
But, again, history.
This matchup is rich in history, man, as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would tell you.
Tomlin this week drew on some of his personal history when he was studying what the Raiders do because of how they’re coached and by whom.
That comes from the fact he was the defensive backs coach in Tampa Bay from 2001-2005.
His boss in Tampa was Jon Gruden, now the Raiders coach. And the man he credits for many of his philosophies, Rod Marinelli, was in Tampa at the time as the defensive line coach as he is now with the Raiders.
“I worked with Rod Marinelli for five years in a real intimate way,” Tomlin said. “I often refer to him as my football father because I was a 28-year-old man when we started working together and he helped shape a lot of philosophical approaches that I have regarding development.
“He was the D-line coach when I was the secondary coach. Quality, quality football coach. I was not surprised at all to watch [Maxx] Crosby, and [Carl] Nassib and Yannick [Ngakoue] and others, [Jonathan] Hankins and those guys, be the catalysts for splash for them.
“That could probably describe every defensive line unit that Rod has coached in the last 25 years in the NFL. I know I benefitted from it as a secondary coach when we worked together in Tampa. So those sack fumbles and those game-changing plays, there’s nothing mystical about it. That’s the culture they’re building over there. That’s the standard they’re held to. And so you can’t be surprised when those plays come to fruition.”
That’s not all. Tomlin is preparing his defense for a Raiders offense that will not have bell cow running back Josh Jacobs, who is out with a toe and knee injury. But Petyon Barber and Kenyan Drake will be asked to step up by Gruden, who isn’t always what he’s portrayed as being.
“He has a reputation in terms of dynamic strategy in the passing game, but underneath it all, he’s a tremendous fundamentalist,” Tomlin said. “He would love to pump you off the ball and gore you on the line of scrimmage with his bigs if he can, and so you’d better respect that element of it.”
Steelers running back Najee Harris grew up in Oakland. He knows about Raiders lore.
He also remembers what Raiders fans were like when he was growing up.
“In Oakland?” Harris asked. “Sheesh, them games were rough, man. And not the game. Outside of the games was rough.”
The Steelers versus the Raiders was always rough years ago. Sunday should be no different.