It's why it is one of the best recent rivalries in the NFL.
Notice I use the term recent rivalries. Ravens-Steelers doesn't have much of a history before 2000. The Ravens generally sucked, while the Steelers dominated the former Central Division.
That pendulum shook the other direction in 1999, when the upstart Ravens went into Pittsburgh and laid the hammer (I was there). Gradually, as both teams got more competitive, the plot thickened.
Since the AFC North started in 2002, they both have won the division every year (except that fluke year Cincy took it in '05). Even with an old cast of characters out (Kordell, Bettis, Porter, Ogden, Ja. Lewis, Sharpe), the new ones (Roethlisberger, Harrison, Polamalu, Scott, Reed, Suggs) continue to make this battle as fun as ever.
And of course, there's the two legends: Hines Ward and Ray Lewis. I'll admit that Hines Ward is an awesome receiver. He's also a real dirty player. Granted, the Ravens have definitely gotten their cheap shots in and both sides are equally guilty.
But for some reason, Ward doesn't get enough crap for it, though to his credit he's definitely a warrior on the battlefield, and that can't be ignored. Lewis, meanwhile, is the aging but always dominant force of the great Ravens D. He's always ready and he lives for games like this.
Much like many of the great players, Lewis raises the intensity for a rivalry game when so much is on the line. It never ceases to be a thrill seeing those two going at it.
The proximity helps as well. Of course, the Steelers have a large bandwagon following, but they still have a strong fanbase in Baltimore itself, who never stopped rooting for Pittsburgh even after the Ravens came to town. If you've ever been to a Ravens-Steelers game, you know what its like. There's as much electricity in the stands as there is on the field.
While most people would consider Browns-Steelers the best historical rivalry in the AFC North, it's been pretty dormant since Cleveland re-entered the league (save for '02 and '07). Ravens-Steelers is where it's at if you are a fan of the old school.
It's like these games belong in the 1970s. Not only do these two teams play great, physical defense, they hate each other. Just look at some past history:
2000: The Ravens go into Three Rivers in Week One and lay the smack down, officially grabbing the physical team torch from them. Pittsburgh returned the favor later in the year by beating the Ravens in Baltimore. It's the last game they lose as they go on to win Super Bowl XXXV.
2001: After beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh on a Kris Brown field goal miss (the Steelers first loss in Heinz Field), the hype to the next game (played on a Sunday night no less) is palpable. After a week of intense trash talking, the Steelers take it to the defending champs in their own house (the 27-21 score is very deceiving, Pittsburgh owned that game).
Kordell Stewart was a house of fire that night. The Steelers finished the job against Baltimore in the playoffs that year.
2003: With Jamal Lewis setting his sights on the single-season rushing record in the last game of the year, the Steelers start all of their players in order to keep him from breaking it. While Lewis did go over 100, Pittsburgh still kept him under the number he needed. The Ravens won this physical game in the opener.
2004: Throttling the Steelers in Week Two at home, the Ravens knock out starting QB Tommy Maddox. In comes Ben Roethlisberger, who nearly leads the Steelers to a comeback win. They would not lose again until the playoffs. In the rematch in Week 16, the Steelers dominated the Ravens physically again, though Terrell Suggs got a (borderline cheap) shot on Roethlisberger that left him injured for the playoffs.
2005: The underdog Ravens lose a tight MNF contest in Pittsburgh that basically ends their season. They get some revenge the Sunday before Thanksgiving by beating the Steelers. It was Pittsburgh's last loss of the season, as they went on to win Super Bowl XL.
2006: The Ravens thumped Pittsburgh in both contests that year. The 27-0 victory, in which Pittsburgh was physically dominated and Roethlisberger looked lost, is many Ravens' fans favorite game of that season.
2007: Pittsburgh crushes Baltimore on MNF last year, ending their season (and Steve McNair's career) in that game.
So as you can see, there's always a lot going on in this game. Using the Monday Night showcase only proves how big it always is. No glitz, no glamour. Aesthetically, it'll be the complete opposite of the Cowboys-Eagles game two weeks ago, but if physical football is what pleases your eyes, this is it. Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh.
Winner gets the early jump in the AFC North. Loser has a lot of questions to answer about themselves. Ravens. Steelers. Once again, it's on!