By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Few NFL veterans have played at a high level for as long as inside linebacker James Farrior from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ray Lewis from the Baltimore Ravens.
Lewis, a 16-year veteran, and 15-year pro Farrior get to view one another’s progress when the Steelers face the Ravens in the season-opener Sunday at 1 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md.
“It’s been tough,” Farrior said. “It’s been a long road, but it seems like it’s been fast. I attribute a lot of this longevity to my offseason training. I think I do a good job getting my body in shape with a strict regimen.
I work out in Florida with Tom Shaw at his speed camp. So, I work out there, doing everything possible to get in the best shape possible. That’s always been a general rule for me, and it’s always helped me along the way. So, I plan on keeping up my offseason training schedule.”
Farrior broached the topic this summer, once the Steelers returned to Saint Vincent College near Latrobe, Pa. for training camp, that the NFL lockout could help the Steelers veterans this year. And in general, the new rules that occurred when the lockout ended could help as well.
There were no more two-a-day practices at camp, and practices in full pads were limited throughout the season as well. Lewis agreed that this could keep players’ bodies much fresher and aide longevity. He was asked if he and Farrior to maybe last 20 years with the new rules.
“I’ll tell you what, when I do look across the field at those guys, they’re still doing it,” Lewis said. “When you look at Green Bay last year, winning it with Charles Woodson. That’s a guy that’s been in this league a long time, and I’m going to take wisdom over speed and talent any day. That’s just the way it is. That’s a credit to James being around so long.
“That’s a credit to me being around so long. If you love the game like we love the game, then keep playing, man. When it’s over, it’s over. There is no coming back, especially for me. I give it everything I got, every time I step out there. That’s really the beauty of it, the longevity and how much you recover.”
Lewis had another view as well.
“I actually think it going to make the games more physical,” Lewis said. “Putting that new rule in, you have to think about the longevity of the careers of the players. You’re already going to go full speed in a game with pads every Sunday. That’s a guarantee, whether it’s a Monday or Thursday or whatever.
“Every week you’re putting on pads and banging them against somebody. The No. 1 thing that I think now that we understand is that we need way more recovery than anybody. Yeah, coaches can come in and go through meetings after meetings, but it’s the players going out there, giving everything they got, and beating their bodies.
“And that’s what really helps us out, getting the recovery,” Lewis added. “When I came in the league, there weren’t any breaks. There were three-hour practices every day, two-times a day, hitting all day. The game has totally changed. It’s way faster. The athleticism of the guys, it’s not about pounding on Thursdays. It has to be done on Sundays.”
If teams like the Steelers and Ravens do more pounding on each other, there’s a chance some fines could be levied for extra-curricular action — late hits and general rough stuff — this week. Lewis was asked about the fines the Steelers got last year and their opinions about those fines.
“I’m with those guys,” Lewis said. “The game is the game. The game is a physical game. I play the way the game is supposed to be played. From my side, nothing changes. If they throw a flag, they throw a flag.
“The bottom line is if somebody has the football, you try to hit them as hard as you can. That’s the objective. I don’t think anybody, I definitely don’t go in trying to spear somebody with my helmet. It’s not about spearing anybody. It’s about going in and making a hard hit.”
Throughout it all, Farrior has stayed away from serious injuries. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin joked that he’s just genetically blessed. That might be true, but anything can happen, Farrior said, when these two teams play.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Farrior said. “That matchup always is a punishing one, and you know that you’re going to be really sore that next week. No matter what, but we’re used to that.
“It’s been like that ever since I’ve been here. You know that this game is one of those games you can circle on the schedule. You know it’s going to be a tough game, and you know you’re going to come out of it real sore.
“And it’s a love-hate relationship,” Farrior added. “We love to play them, because we hate them so much. And they probably feel the same way about us. So, there’s no love lost between these two teams.”
For the record, the rematch is set for Sunday, Nov. 6 at 8:20 p.m. at Heinz Field. It’s a nationally televised game on NBC.