You love 'em or you hate 'em.

There's almost no middle ground.

Ask a York County football fan how he or she feels about the Baltimore Ravens and you'll likely get a very passionate response.

That's a good thing.

Passion drives interest, and Sunday's AFC Championship Game between the Ravens and the New England Patriots will be watched with intense interest in these parts.

The Ravens, you see, aren't universally beloved around here. That may seem odd, since Baltimore is the NFL franchise in closest proximity to York. The cities sit just 50 miles apart.

Still, the fact remains that York County has seriously divided loyalties when it comes to the NFL. In fact, a strong argument could be made that the most popular team in the York area resides 220 miles to the west of Continental Square -- the Pittsburgh Steelers.

How in the name of Art Rooney did that happen?

Well, you have to know your history.

From the late 1950s through the early 1970s, York's pro football heart belonged to Baltimore. During that time, the Colts were one of the dominant franchises in the NFL, winning three league titles, and their roster featured legendary names such as Unitas, Berry, Donovan, Hendricks, Mackey, Marchetti, Moore and Parker -- all Hall of Famers.

During that same time period, the Steelers were a non-entity in York. Their teams were perennially among the worst in the NFL.

In the 1970s, however, the roles started to reverse. The Steelers won four Super Bowl titles from 1975 through 1980, while the Colts won none. And by the early 1980s, the Colts had become a laughingstock under despised owner Bob Irsay.

Irsay openly shopped the Colts to other cities in search of a better deal and a new stadium. He finally abandoned Baltimore under a cloak of darkness on a cold, snowy night in late March 1984. The Mayflower trucks took Baltimore's beloved Colts to Indianapolis.

Baltimore would not get another NFL franchise until 1996, when Art Modell brought the Cleveland Browns to Charm City for -- you guessed it -- a better deal and a new stadium. He called the new team the Ravens. The irony that Baltimore finally got back into the NFL by taking another city's team was not lost on anyone.

Still, for a dozen years, Baltimore did not have an NFL team. Longtime Colts fans in York County were left without a horse in the NFL race. Not surprisingly, many of them gravitated toward a team in their home state that was coming off four Super Bowl titles in six years -- the Steelers.

That was a logical choice. The Steelers were hugely successful and relatively close, and with the Colts leaving town, the Black and Gold colors were nearly always on television around here.

By the time the Ravens hit Baltimore in 1996, York County had largely become Steelers' territory. Yes, there were lots of Philadelphia Eagles' fans around here, too, along with pockets of followers for other teams, but the Steelers generally ruled this area.

When Baltimore finally regained an NFL franchise, many local fans, especially in the southern part of the county, immediately started to root for the Ravens. After all, the Baltimore-York ties run deep.

Many others, however, remained committed to the Steelers.

A York County rivalry was born.

The Ravens and Steelers were placed in the same division -- first the AFC Central and later the AFC North. They met twice each year, and it's true that familiarity often breeds contempt. That was certainly the case with the Ravens and Steelers.

When the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001, the rivalry really intensified, among both the players and the fans. It's remained that way for the last dozen years. The two teams seem to annually battle for AFC North supremacy.

Which brings us back to Sunday's Ravens-Patriots game.

Logic would tell you that York County fans would overwhelmingly root for the nearby Ravens. Logic, in this case, is wrong.

Most Steelers' fans in this area simply despise the Ravens. They probably don't love Tom Brady and the Pats much, either, but they'll likely hold their collective noses and cheer on Bill Belichick's bunch. Pittsburgh fans root for the Steelers and whoever is playing the Ravens. Just the sight of purple can make their blood boil.

York County football fans who don't root for either the Ravens or the Steelers will be in a quandary. Baltimore and New England are among the NFL's most successful franchises, but neither is exactly beloved outside of their home regions.

Teams that enjoy great success normally aren't real popular with fans of other teams. It's simple human nature. See the Yankees.

So that's where we stand entering Sunday's showdown.

The legion of Ravens' fans in York County will cheer on their team with an intense passion.

The legion of Ravens' haters in York County will root against the Maryland team with an equal passion.

It should be a blast.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dis patch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.