Former Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter, whose blitz forced Tommy Maddox out of a 2004 Ravens-Steelers game and paved the way for Ben Roethlisberger to take over at quarterback for Pittsburgh, would’ve had a message for his team had he known how the rest of that season and much of the next two decades would play out.
“Let’s not call that blitz,” Baxter joked on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 4.
The Ravens were ahead of the Steelers, 13-0, early in the third quarter of a Week 2 contest, with Maddox trying to lead Pittsburgh back. Maddox, then 33, had started all 16 games for the Steelers in 2003. Though the Steelers had drafted Roethlisberger out of Miami (Ohio) in the first round in the spring of 2004, it was still Maddox’s team.
Well, at least until Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan called Eagle 2 Blitz (Baxter still remembers the play call 17-plus years later). Baxter blitzed from the nickel position, sprinted around the left side of the Steelers’ line and hit Maddox on the right arm, forcing a fumble. Maddox left the game with a right elbow injury. Roethlisberger finished the game, completing 12 of 20 passes for 176 yards along with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Ravens won, 30-13.
“Steelers Nation was pissed at me. They were mad. I was like, ‘Oh, my word, what’s going on?'” Baxter recalled. “And so the next week, Ben Roethlisberger, he plays Miami. It was kind of a rainy, soggy game, so I made sure I paid attention to it and they won. I was like, ‘OK, all right.’ Then the next week they won, and the week after that they won. I was like, ‘Oh, what we have we created?'”
Roethlisberger never relinquished his hold on the starting quarterback spot, and the Steelers didn’t lose another contest that season until the AFC championship game against the Patriots. The Steelers went 15-1 during the regular season, outscoring opponents by 121 points on the year. Roethlisberger completed 66.4 percent of his throws for 2,621 yards and 17 touchdowns during his rookie season.
Roethlisberger ended up authoring a Hall of Fame career — 18 seasons, 164 wins, 417 touchdown passes, more than 63,000 passing yards and, of course, two Super Bowl titles. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound passer likely would’ve become the Steelers’ quarterback sooner or later — he was drafted No. 11 overall, after all — but Baxter is looking for a little appreciation regardless.
“Ben owes me a steak dinner,” Baxter said. “I’m still waiting on that steak dinner.”
Roethlisberger plays in Baltimore Jan. 9 for what is expected to be his final game in the NFL. The Steelers (8-7-1) are still alive in the playoff hunt, but their path is narrow and Roethlisberger has all but confirmed that this season is his last at the age of 39.
This game likely also marks the final game of the Ravens’ season. Baltimore is on a five-game losing streak and if nothing else will be looking to beat Roethlisberger to end what has been a difficult stretch on a high note.
How does Baxter, who played in Baltimore from 2001-2004, expect fans and players to respond to Roethlisberger?
“I think that we should give him a standing ovation just as one of the great players that played the game and gave us a lot of great [Ravens-Steelers] memories,” Baxter said. “It’s the reason why those guys in the locker room this week will be fired up. It’s because they’re playing against Ben Roethlisberger. But at the end of the day, we want the win. We want our fans to go absolutely crazy, but as he’s walking off it’ll be very classy and speak highly of our city, the organization, just everyone … a standing ovation as he walks out.”
For more from Baxter, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens