Ravens

What did the NFL look like when Harbaugh, Tomlin first met?

Ravens

John Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin have being going head to head in the AFC North for a long time.

Tomlin was hired first, becoming just the third Steelers head coach since 1969 when he signed in 2007. One year later, Harbaugh was the Ravens' surprise choice in Baltimore. Now, after more than a decade of battling for division supremacy, the pair are about to set an NFL record. Sunday's game will mark the 25th regular-season matchup between Tomlin and Harbaugh, the most ever in the NFL's Super Bowl era.

Tomlin and Harbaugh are third and fourth, respectively, among longest-tenured active coaches. In fact, all but seven current NFL coaches were hired in the last five years, highlighting how unique Tomlin and Harbaugh are. Only 16 coaches in NFL history have spent more time than these two with a single franchise, and neither head coach looks like he's going anywhere anytime soon.

In NFL terms, 2008 was a combined 312 games and multiple lifetimes ago. So, what did the league look like way back when these two were first kicking off their rivalry? Let's take a walk down memory lane.

Standout 2008 Ravens and Steelers

The Steelers and Ravens finished with 12 and 11 wins respectively, and it came on the backs of some of the sport's biggest names. Ben Roethlisberger's stats from 2008 don't jump off the page, but all he needed to do in those days was play the role of game manager.

Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore formed the Steelers' running back committee. Just like in 2020, the real offensive stars were in the receiving corps - Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller formed the crux of the Steelers passing attack.

 

But it was the defensive stars that led Pittsburgh to its Super Bowl victory. The linebacking group included James Farrior (Pro Bowl), LaMarr Woodley, and NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison. And the secondary boasted Troy Polamalu in his prime.

The Ravens were stacked defensively as well, of course. Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, Jarret Johnson and Terrell Suggs formed a ridiculous linebacking corps of their own, not to mention Haloti Ngata up front and Ed Reed at safety. On offense, the Ravens were led in rushing yards by their fullback Le'Ron McClain. Talk about a different era. Rookies Joe Flacco and Ray Rice played big roles as well, and Derrick Mason was still starring at wideout.

The Ravens even had a 40-year old Matt Stover still kicking for them at the time to give you a sense of how long ago 2008 was.

NFL Standings

There's always turnover in the NFL, but going back this far is still jarring when looking at the standings. The 2008 season was not only the last time the Patriots failed to make the postseason - thanks to Tom Brady's Week 1 season-ending injury - it was the last time they didn't finish in first place in the AFC East. Even without Brady, it took a tiebreaker for the Dolphins to win the division at 11-5. Imagine missing the playoffs with 11 wins. 

Elsewhere in the AFC, the big standout - in a bad way - was the Kansas City Chiefs. They may be an elite, model franchise under Andy Reid, but in 2008 they finished 2-14 for the worst record in the conference. The worst record in all of football, however, was the Detroit Lions in their notorious 0-16 season.

Perhaps most jarring of all is the reversal of fortunes in the NFC West and NFC East. The West had just one team finish above .500, the 9-7 Cardinals. While the NFC East, if you can believe it, saw all four teams go at least 8-8.

Yeah, we didn't believe it either.

NFL League Leaders

Drew Brees led the league in many passing categories, but he was followed closely by names like Kurt Warner, Jay Cutler, Brett Favre (on the Jets!) and Chad Pennington. 

Top 10 in rushing yards? Adrian Peterson at the top, followed by Michael Turner, Clinton Portis, Thomas Jones, Steve Slaton, Matt Forte, Ryan Grant and LaDainian Tomlinson. Other top picks in 2008 fantasy drafts included Brian Westbrook, Joseph Addai, Steven Jackson, Marion Barber and Frank Gore. Actually, maybe some things never change.

The top 10 receptions leaders included Andre Johnson at the top, and names like Wes Welker, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Dwayne Bowe and local star Eddie Royal (Westfield High/Virginia Tech). Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens were unsurprisingly all in the top 10 in touchdown catches, but so was somebody named Kevin Walter?

 

Other NFL Notes

Since 2008, seven new NFL stadiums have been built, and Lucas Oil Stadium - built in 2008 - has hosted multiple Final Fours and a Super Bowl.

There were 252 players selected in the 2008 NFL Draft, not to mention countless undrafted rookie free agents, but just seven players from the class remain active in the NFL today.

Sebastian Janikowski set the NFL record for longest field goal attempt (76 yards), Tony Gonzalez set the NFL record for most career receiving yards by a tight end, and of course, Ed Reed broke his own record with a 108-yard interception return for a touchdown.