The road of vehicles headed to the funeral viewing appeared countless, tying up site visitors in Randallstown for hours on the afternoon of Aug. 2, 2021. 1000’s of well-wishers had come to pay their respects to Darren Sanders, the previous Baltimore Police detective who served for 18 years because the Ravens’ safety director.
Ravens proprietor Steve Bisciotti, an in depth buddy, was in attendance. So had been Ravens front-office officers and coaches. Present and former gamers got here as nicely.
And a gaggle of 4 from Pittsburgh.
“I might by no means have introduced myself to not be there for the viewing or the funeral,” mentioned Jack Kearney, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ longtime safety supervisor, who was joined by three colleagues. “None of us might.”
Onerous hits and sharp tongues have lengthy outlined the Ravens-Steelers rivalry, which is able to play out once more in a Sunday evening recreation ripe with postseason implications. A Ravens win at M&T Financial institution Stadium would flip their regular-season finale in opposition to the Cincinnati Bengals subsequent weekend right into a de facto AFC North championship recreation. A Pittsburgh win might preserve alive their slim hopes of becoming a member of the Ravens within the playoffs.
For the Ravens and Steelers’ safety groups, although, these video games have come to imply one thing else. They’re reminders of whom they’ve misplaced and the neighborhood they’ve discovered. It’s a rivalry that has fostered a fraternity, one whose bonds have solely deepened since Sanders’ passing final summer season at age 55.
“We, as safety, are former cops, former FBI brokers and so forth,” Ravens Vice President of Safety Craig Singleterry mentioned in an interview. “However we construct a bond. We each do the identical job: caring for the group, gamers, possession and executives. And we, as Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore, have that rivalry on the sphere. However the safety guys, we’ve obtained a regular-type bond with one another due to the truth that we do the identical job.”
Kearney joked that he met Sanders “when the Baltimore Ravens had been nonetheless the Cleveland Browns.” Kearney was a sergeant in Pittsburgh with the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Workplace’s fugitive squad when he took a name from a Baltimore murder detective who believed a suspect was someplace in Western Pennsylvania.
“It was only a chilly name,” Kearney recalled in an interview. “I simply answered the cellphone, and it was Darren on the opposite finish.” They clicked instantly. “Beloved the man from the minute I met him,” Kearney mentioned.
Their paths would cross once more. Sanders joined the Ravens’ safety group in 2004, 5 years after Kearney, now the chief deputy within the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Workplace, took a part-time job overseeing safety for the Steelers.
As AFC North brethren, they noticed one another typically. When the Ravens would go to Pittsburgh, Kearney and his group may be referred to as on to rearrange tickets for a participant’s members of the family, or facilitate resort lodging, or assist with recreation day logistics. When the Steelers would go to Baltimore, the Ravens would return the favor.
“I believe you turn out to be a police officer since you need to assist folks. You need to make a distinction,” Kearney mentioned. “That carries over into your different job, in the event you’re lucky sufficient to be a kind of 32 folks [managing an NFL team’s security].”
They needed to be ready for something. In an August interview with SiriusXM, Bisciotti recalled heading to the Steelers’ former house, Three Rivers Stadium, in 1996 and introducing himself and his household to Kearney, who was then dealing with escorts for visiting groups.
Dozens of Ravens staff had made the street journey, and Bisciotti instructed Kearney he wished to affix them at a tailgate celebration outdoors the stadium. Kearney had a “deathly look on his face,” Bisciotti mentioned. However after two golf carts and an additional safety guard had been summoned, Bisciotti made his technique to the gathering. Kearney, Bisciotti recalled, remained cautious of the journey all of the whereas, protecting his hand on his gun, simply in case.
“After I was leaving that day, he mentioned, ‘You understand, that’s the primary time in all my years being right here that any proprietor has requested to go to a tailgate celebration,’” Bisciotti mentioned. “And I mentioned, ‘Effectively, it’s going to occur extra typically than you suppose, bro.’”
Different incidents required the Ravens’ assist. Earlier than a 2003 recreation in Pittsburgh, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis obtained into an altercation with Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, who had been sidelined by a gunshot wound. Lewis later instructed reporters that he was providing phrases of encouragement to Porter, who claimed that Lewis was really mocking his signature leg kick celebration and telling him, “That is my home.”
“It wasn’t humorous on the time,” mentioned Kearney, who now calls it considered one of his funniest recollections. “Darren and I had our fingers full protecting these two aside after the sport.”
Their friendship blossomed over years of street journeys and offseason conferences, bolstered by a mutual respect and an affinity for one another’s firm. After an time beyond regulation loss in Pittsburgh in 2008, Singleterry recalled a Ravens official questioning the trail of the group’s buses to the airport. Sanders mentioned he trusted the Steelers’ safety group to not mislead them.
“‘Hey, we run the present,” Singleterry recalled a Steelers official telling the Ravens. “We’re going to take you to the airport and get you there as quick and safely and rapidly as attainable. We’re not attempting to sham you and take you the great distance so to be depressing after a loss.”
Singleterry added: “That was one of many issues that constructed the bond between us and Pittsburgh safety.”
They labored collectively and grieved collectively. In 2013, after Sgt. Richard Fersch, a deputy sheriff for the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Workplace who labored on the Steelers’ safety group, died at age 64, Sanders and Singleterry attended his funeral.
“It simply confirmed me what a category act Darren was,” Kearney mentioned. “All of the folks within the AFC North are fairly shut. I believe we’re completely different from a whole lot of the opposite divisions. However all 4 of us are fairly shut.”
“There’s nothing that we received’t do for them or they received’t do for us,” Singleterry mentioned of the Ravens and Steelers, “so far as safety and getting issues achieved with us.”
When Sanders was recognized with prostate most cancers in 2011, Kearney was devastated. “That basically bothered me,” he mentioned. Sanders beat that most cancers, just for medical doctors to discover a mind tumor. In December 2019, he had mind surgical procedure and underwent six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation to deal with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of most cancers.
“I couldn’t imagine it,” Kearney mentioned. His voice softened. “I actually thought he had a brighter probability of beating the mind most cancers than he did the prostate most cancers.”
Sanders died July 23, 2021, at his Owings Mills house. He was survived by his spouse and three youngsters. Singleterry referred to as him his greatest buddy and a buddy. A portrait of them hangs in his workplace.
“He was my mentor,” he mentioned. “He taught me a whole lot of issues about safety. He taught me a whole lot of issues about life. He was simply an all-around good individual.”
At Sanders’ funeral providers, Singleterry recalled members of the Steelers’ safety group approaching him with tears of their eyes. “That is fallacious,” they instructed him. “He’ll be sorely missed.” A month in the past, Singleterry even obtained a name from former Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whom he’d gotten to know through the years. Roethlisberger wished to know the way Singleterry was doing; he knew he was lacking Sanders.
Coach John Harbaugh, who referred to as Sanders “as loyal and real and actual as anybody I ever met,” remembered being struck by the dimensions of his funeral. At one of many providers, a loudspeaker was arrange outdoors to accommodate the overflow crowds.
“I can’t say it was stunning, however you’re at all times shocked while you go to a viewing and there’s actually 1000’s of individuals there,” Harbaugh mentioned in an interview. “How do you anticipate that? I knew he was a preferred man and other people cherished him, however I didn’t anticipate there to be — had been there 1000’s? 1000’s. 1000’s and 1000’s of individuals. It was loopy.”
Kearney arrived in Baltimore on Friday to start his preparations for Sunday’s recreation. That is his twenty third season with the Steelers, and likewise his final. Sanders’ loss of life, he mentioned, has made him understand that “there’s different issues in life.”
“Clearly, I’m going to overlook Darren not being there,” he mentioned. “I’ll be blissful to see Craig. I couldn’t consider a greater place for me to go to. … I couldn’t consider a greater metropolis for it to be my final regular-season recreation.”
Steelers at Ravens
Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 2