Collier: Eagles and Steelers, as it was meant to be

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My own vacuous preferences having long been ignored by NFL power brokers, I don't suppose it's even worth mentioning that I really would like to see more of the Philadelphia Eagles.

If the Steelers were to play the Eagles twice every autumn instead of the Cleveland Browns, by 100 percent random example (right), it would certainly ratchet the entertainment quotient around here in a favorable direction, in my view.

Part of the game's original stew, the 1933 recipe of reasons to put Pittsburgh in the league, was to provide a natural rival for the Eagles, and they played each other twice a year almost every year from 1934 until 1967.

But in the league's current eight-division scheduling permutation, the Steelers and Eagles meet only during those years that include a presidential election.

So far, when the Steelers win, the Republican candidate is elected.

When the Eagles win, the Democrat gains the White House.

A good question for the American ambassador to Ireland therefore might be, if this recent trend were somehow inalterable, would Dan Rooney rather have a Steelers victory today or an Obama victory Nov. 6.

The Steelers president emeritus is way too smart to deal in such hypotheticals, of course, but four years ago, his enthusiastic and tireless campaigning for Obama brought all kinds of reactionary vitriol from many Steelers loyalists threatening to cancel their season tickets and/or unilaterally ex-patriate themselves from Steelers Nation.

No foolin'.

Funny; you won't find many empty seats today.

Of all the questions surrounding the physical politics between the sidelines at Heinz Field this afternoon, most are framed as though the prospect of the Steelers falling to 1-3 is a more urgent matter than whatever should happen Nov. 6 anyway.

"We'd really better be on our keys," said Troy Polamalu as preparations just about expired Friday. "They're a team with great route runners, a very elusive running back, and when you put Michael Vick into that equation, it just makes things really difficult. "They're a huge threat and I'm not just talking about their offense. Defense, special teams, really solid."

Philadelphia is3-1, and though its victories have been narrow, two were against the really solid Baltimore Ravens and the Lombardi Trophy-solid New York Giants, which is notable because traditional solidarity has been hard to formulate for a Steelers defense that today finally has a healthy Polamalu back at safety and a healthy James Harrison at right outside linebacker.

Harrison, like Polamalu a former NFL defensive player of the year, hasn't been on the field this season.

He arrives just in time for a full blown emergency, it being primarily No. 92's responsibility to keep the mercurial Vick from escaping the pocket to the quarterback's front side.

"No more pressure than ever," Harrison insisted at his locker. "Guys just have to execute. I'm just happy to get back out there."

Most of this quadrennial Eagles week has been absorbed locally fretting about Vick and former Pitt standout Shady McCoy, about game-breaking wideout DeSean Jackson and chains-moving tight end Brent Celek, but Steelers tight end Heath Miller indicated the preparation for dealing with Philadelphia's defense has been equally problematic.

"It's hard to simulate their energy on defense, hard to simulate how hard they play," said Miller, who has a touchdown catch in every game this season. "As far as the schemes go, I think we have an understanding of them, and I don't think they're really trying to hide anything to be honest with you."

It would follow that playing the Eagles only once every four years means preparation is difficult, owing to unfamiliarity, more arduous mentally than the ramp up to a Ravens or Bengals conflagration.

There's just no empirical evidence for it.

Should the Steelers ascend to 2-2 at Philadelphia's expense, as I think they will, Mike Tomlin's record against NFC teams -- all of which come around quadrennially -- will be 10-1. He's won seven in a row. Ben Roethisberger is 13-1 against the NFC at Heinz Field. Regardless of venue, the Steelers have won 26 of their past 32 out-of-conference appointments.

But these Eagles do not constitute generic NFC resistance.

McCoy is coming off a 123-yard rushing effort against the Giants, who could manage only 17 points against the Philadelphia defense.

There might not be a lot of history majors on either side of the ball, but the historical fact is that with the exception of the Chicago Bears, who have played the Steelers about 50 fewer times, no NFL team has beaten the Steelers as reliably as Philadelphia.

Since the presentation of that original 1933 stew, the Eagles record against the Steelers is 47-27-3.

The serving today ought to be delicious, as these are two of the game's best modern franchises, but maybe trading Cleveland for Philadelphia on an annual basis isn't your idea of a good time.

genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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