By Christina Rivers

Sunday night’s game at Heinz Field between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens will be important for several reasons. Not only is it the second time these two teams will meet in the 2014 NFL regular season in one of the most-heated rivalries in the modern-day league, but a legitimate shot at the AFC North title will be on the line. The Steelers franchise will officially retire Hall of Famer Joe Greene’s jersey at halftime in a special ceremony. Additionally, Pittsburgh will look to complete a three-game home stand with yet another win.

Head coach Mike Tomlin spoke candidly in his Tuesday press conference about the upcoming challenge the Ravens present to his team, pointing out that the Steelers will need the type of performance they had against the Indianapolis Colts in order to be successful. Rookie Martavis Bryant looks to get more opportunities to contribute on offense. “His contributions are noteworthy,” Tomlin said. “(Bryant) continues to grow and develop and work hard during the course of the week. We will continue to maybe expand some of the things that he does as he shows that he is capable of handling what it is that we ask him to do.” Tomlin also praised running back Le’Veon Bell’s performance over the past eight weeks, saying he feels Bell has become “an impact player in the running game and the passing game.”

Two areas of focus that Tomlin wants to stress this week in practice is protecting the ball instead of fumbling it away, something that hurt them against Baltimore in their first meeting, and pressuring Joe Flacco and his wide receivers. “There are things that we can do to minimize that,” Tomlin said in regards to allowing teams gain large chunks of yardage and earn takeaways against the Steelers. “We left a lot of points on the field in Baltimore. A lot of it not only had to do with what we didn’t do but what it is that their group does,” admitted Tomlin. “So we have a big week from a preparation standpoint in that regard.”

“We are excited about preparing this week and building on the past performances we had in the recent weeks but we also understand what this week is,” Tomlin said. “It’s Ravens week. We are excited about preparing for it and doing it in Heinz Field…in front of the best fans in football.”

Joe Greene specifically picked the week nine game for his official jersey retirement ceremony. Greene was a special player in Pittsburgh and in his conference call on Tuesday, Greene said, “There have been moments in the past that have kind of rivaled this: when Mr. (Dan) Rooney asked me to be his presenter at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I have enormous emotions about that.” Greene went on to talk about how those same emotions came through when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame and got to enjoy it with the people he loved, grew up with and shared victories and losses with. “This [jersey ceremony] is pretty much the same because it’s about the Steelers…I know emotions will be riding high on Sunday night.”

That might be understating things. Fans are likely to be in standing-room-only attendance to see the famed member of the ‘Steel Curtain’ defense and cheer the Steelers to victory. Fans have already posted social media indications that they will wear Greene’s jersey to the game and on game day across the unified ‘Steelers Nation’ to honor Greene’s legend contribution to four Super Bowl championship teams.

Ironically, it could be a completely different number that the Steelers retire on Sunday. If Greene had kept the first number he was issued in training camp in 1969, the number “72”, the man would still deserve the honor he’s receiving and the Steelers made a definitive statement of appreciation by making the event public. Greene wore the number “75” in high school and college but teammate Ken Kortas was assigned the famed-75 jersey. “I think I wore No. 72 throughout the preseason,” admitted Greene, “and when Ken was released (before the start of the regular season), No. 75 was in my locker.”  Although the Steelers have several numbers they no longer hand out to players, Greene’s number will become the only “officially” retired jersey in franchise history.

“There was something that we called the Steelers way,” said Greene, “and it’s hard to get and it’s hard to keep. That’s what I would like people to think about, to associate me (and) my number will all of the other numbers the players before them wore. You can’t separate any of us.” Greene talked about the importance of the Pittsburgh Steelers leadership from owners to coaches to those in the locker room. His jersey will have a permanent viewing location at Heinz Field and is likely to become quite the shrine to Steelers fans young and old for many generations. “My hope is that it always will be a special place.”

For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.

Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.