Rivalry cooled long ago, but doesn't mean Steelers don't have something Eagles want
September 21, 2008 8:00 AM
Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
Hines Ward mocks Terrell Owens and 'The Dirty Bird' after scoring in 2004.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, once joined at the hip, renew a rivalry today that virtually disappeared after nearly 40 years of bitter battle.
This game was the Browns for the Steelers long before the Browns were born. This game was the Cowboys for the Eagles long before the Cowboys came into existence.
Game: Steelers (2-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-1).
When: 4:15 p.m.
Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia.
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970)
Now the Steelers and Eagles play about once every four years instead of twice annually and the sting has gone out of it. One emotion remains, however: Philadelphia envy.
Fans there lust after a Super Bowl victory every bit as those here, only Steelers fans have been fed five Lombardi trophies and the Eagles have none. The Steelers are 5 of 6 in Super Bowl games, the Eagles 0 for 2.
When it comes to Super Bowls, the state of Pennsylvania tilts heavily to the west.
"Yeah, they're very frustrated," said one of those former Eagles fans, nose tackle Scott Paxson, a member of the Steelers' practice squad. "Philly fans in general are frustrated people with all the sports not winning."
Paxson, born in Philadelphia and schooled at Penn State, was a fervent Eagles fan. As a Penn State student, he wore a Donovan McNabb jersey in the stands at Heinz Field the last time the Eagles and Steelers played, a 27-3 thumping of previously unbeaten Philadelphia Nov. 7, 2004.
He pulled for his Eagles through three consecutive NFC championship game losses in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
"We were like the second coming of the [Buffalo] Bills is what we were," said Paxson. "It's frustrating. They were close with T.O. there and everything, but they just didn't come through."
That was 2004 when the addition of Terrell Owens helped to put the Eagles in the Super Bowl. That was to be the year of the Keystone State Super Bowl. But, after the Steelers went 15-1 in Ben Roethlisberger's rookie year, they fell in the AFC championship game at home to New England to fall short.
Why the envy?Steelers and Eagles numbers since the NFL merger (1970):
Super Bowl appearances
Super Bowl wins
It would have been a grand meeting for two franchises born in the same year, 1933, when the repeal of Pennsylvania's blue laws allowed play on Sunday. The two franchises were swapped for each other in 1940 (for years, the Steelers' charter read "Philadelphia Eagles"), and they joined forces during World War II to field the Steagles for one season (1943) with two head coaches.
As Dan Rooney pointed out the other day, that season was the first winning one for Philadelphia, when the Steagles went 5-4-1. The Eagles then went on to more glory while the Steelers fell on hard times. The only playoff game in Steelers history before the Immaculate Reception in 1972 came against Philadelphia in 1947, and the Eagles won to advance to the NFL championship game, which they lost.
Philadelphia then won the next two NFL championships and added a third in 1960 to give the Eagles three while the Steelers had none.
Everything changed with the NFL merger in 1970. The two Pennsylvania teams parted ways; the Steelers joined the AFC, and the Eagles stayed in the NFC. The Steelers flourished after that with four Super Bowl victories in the 1970s and another in 2005.
Today when they meet, they each can stake a claim as a Super Bowl contender, and the outcome will boost that assertion for one of them.
Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, still looking for that championship in his 10th season, has to be a tad jealous that Roethlisberger earned a ring in his second.
"You know, I had my opportunity," McNabb said, "and, hopefully, I will have another opportunity. It is not about being upset with anyone; you are excited for them because it is a wonderful achievement. I know everything that you have to go through to get to a Super Bowl; to win it is that much harder. I think that they all played well to take some pressure off of Ben. I'm sure that he will tell you that he didn't play as well as he wanted to in the Super Bowl, but the team rallied around each other and they played well."
Today, the two teams face different historical tasks. The Steelers have not won in Philadelphia since 1965, their only victory on the road that year. Mike Nixon was their coach. Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher never won a real game in Philadelphia. The Steelers have lost their past seven games in that city.
On the other hand, the Steelers are 13-2 in their past 15 games against NFC teams. The Eagles have lost 14 games in a row to AFC teams that made the playoffs in the same season, including the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, who broke into the league with the NFC's Detroit Lions, has a theory as to why the Steelers have had so much success against the NFC. He said it's because NFC offenses aren't used to playing against the 3-4 defense -- most of them are in the AFC. It takes time, Batch said, to adjust.
The Eagles have an advantage there because they played Dallas on Monday night and the Cowboys play a 3-4. Plus, the Eagles played the Steelers in the preseason. Anyone who saw the Monday night game knows the Eagles had little trouble with the 3-4 as played in Dallas, but Philadelphia coach Andy Reid believes the Steelers' defense under coordinator Dick LeBeau might cause more problems.
"Dick LeBeau is about as creative a guy as you are going to find in this league," Reid said. "His players believe in what he does. He just does a lot of things with that 3-4 defense; he does as much with that 3-4 as anybody, and then you add in there all of the crazy things that he does with his nickel and dime package; it is amazing that those players can digest it all."
The idea is to give the Eagles offense indigestion, and thus add to all that Philadelphia envy.