The logo-stomp. So petty. So juvenile. So perfect.
There are 992 possible NFL rivalries, and until 2020, Baltimore-Tennessee might not have cracked the top 990. But this is a new year in so many ways, and the rise of the Titans that inspires emotion (much less blind rage) is a new and welcome development.
Sunday, just prior to their game with Baltimore, the Titans — who are thriving under Mike Vrabel’s Belichickian rule — happened to hold a pregame team meeting at midfield. You know, right on top of the Ravens’ smorgasbord-flag-style logo.
Ravens players weren’t yet on the field, but the coaches were, and John Harbaugh, never one to back down from a challenge, bolted out onto the field and had words with Vrabel and Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler:
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) November 22, 2020
“Some words were said, and they said some words back,” Titans receiver AJ Brown said afterward. “They kind of rushed the field like they were players. They definitely set the tone of the game. That’s when we [knew] what type of game it was gonna be, from right then.”
Spoiler: It wasn’t ballet.
The Ravens controlled the game early, going up by as many as 11 points, but the Titans stomped back behind Derrick Henry to win 30-24 in overtime.
The game knocked Baltimore down to the eighth seed in the AFC playoff hunt, which, if you’re keeping track, is the second time in two games Tennessee has come into Baltimore and knocked the Ravens out of the playoff bracket. Unlike last season’s divisional playoff game, the Ravens have a chance to rebound. And they’ve got all kinds of extra motivation now.
Logo-stomping is as childish an attack as there is, the grown-up version of a kid putting a finger an inch from their sibling’s face and saying, “I’m not touching you!”
Logo-stomping is also undeniably, wickedly effective. There’s something about someone coming into and walking all over your family crest that drives even mild-mannered souls into frothing rage.
The proud tradition flows throughout college football, where passions run high, and common sense and good sportsmanship often do not. In 2017, a brash young Oklahoma quarterback by the name of Baker Mayfield planted the OU flag right atop Ohio State’s logo:
Baker Mayfield plants the OU flag in the Ohio State logo at midfield pic.twitter.com/Ovas203PqP
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) September 10, 2017
(Ohio State’s Nick Bosa later got the perfect revenge.)
That same year, Miami players “buried” the Florida State logo, earning themselves a butt-chewing from their own coach, Mark Richt:
— Carlos Pineda (@CarlosFPineda) October 8, 2017
Logo-oriented passion runs to different degrees in other sports. NHL teams take things to a finicky extreme by getting flustered whenever anyone steps on the logo in the middle of their locker room, which is less “protect this house” and more “don’t misbehave in this house.” NBA teams, on the other hand, step on each others’ logo with every possession, and if you’re stomping on a baseball team’s logo, you’re probably in foul territory, so who cares?
In the NFL’s corporate environment, getting flustered over something as silly as cleats on painted grass doesn’t fit the do-your-job ethos. Wary of “bulletin board material,” coaches try to keep players from giving opponents easy motivation the way logo disrespect does.
Thing is, a coach like Vrabel knows that if a team needs “bulletin board material” as an excuse to get fired up, they’re easy pickings already. And since no one ever went broke overestimating the volatility of a Harbaugh, the Ravens made for a ready target, a wide-open eye for the Titans to poke a finger into. (Harbaugh, perhaps recognizing that he’d been lured into a classic psych-out trap, declined to discuss the logo incident afterward, saying only, “before the game, it’s irrelevant.”)
You know the most famous logo stomp in NFL history: then-49er Terrell Owens posing atop the Dallas Cowboys’ star after scoring twice:
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 24, 2019
The second time, the Cowboys’ George Teague laid Owens out, and got kicked out of the game for his trouble. Owens has tried to insist he was just praising the Almighty for blessing him with the talent to score touchdowns, but we all know better.
As Teague showed, there are two very easy ways to stop a logo-stomp. You can do it via force, or you can do it via the scoreboard. JuJu Smith-Schuster tried to do his own version of TO’s star turn a couple weeks back, but the Cowboys chose Option 1 and put an end to that in a hurry.
Baltimore, however, wasn’t able to scoreboard the Titans. And if things keep going the way they’re going between these two teams, the Ravens won’t have to worry about the Titans stomping on their logo much longer. Another big win or two in Charm City, and Tennessee can go ahead and replace Baltimore’s logo with its own.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at email@example.com.
More from Yahoo Sports: