The Pittsburgh Steelers need a win Sunday or it could be a long 2012 season.
Only twice in their history (1976 and 2002) have the Steelers started a season 1-3 and reached the playoffs.
Considering this is as close to a must-win situation as there can be in Week 5, why does the opponent have to be the Philadelphia Eagles?
The Eagles historically have been a thorn in the Steelers' side.
The Steelers have six Super Bowl trophies while the Eagles have gone 52 years without an NFL championship. The Eagles, however, own head-to-head bragging rights in Pennsylvania.
The Steelers are 27-47-3 all-time against the Eagles, according to Pro Football Reference, and 2-6 since they won the first of their six Lombardi trophies in 1975.
The NFL's two Keystone State franchises met almost every year between 1933 and 1970. The only years they didn't play were 1943, when they merged to form one team during World War II, and 1944.
Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, this intrastate rivalry has become an interconference novelty. Sunday's meeting will be just the 10th between the teams in the last 42 years.
One of those games made me a Steelers fan.
The first Steelers game I ever watched was their game at Philadelphia on September 30, 1979. The Steelers entered that game 4-0.
I had remembered reading in a newspaper somewhere that the Steelers were unbeaten. I was eight, so in my childish wonderment I was amazed to see them losing as I watched on a television set about the size of a toaster oven in our second-floor apartment in Pawtucket, R.I.
The Steelers fell to the Eagles 17-14, yet somehow I was hooked.
It was the first time I really paid attention to an NFL game. The New England Patriots normally would have been on TV in Rhode Island, but they had a Monday-night game. Who knows how my young football mind would have been molded had the Patriots been on TV that day? That mind wasn't yet powerful enough to keep my body awake through an entire Monday Night Football telecast.
So long before the Patriots kicked off the following evening against the Packers, I became a Steelers fan by watching them lose. Who says I'm a front-runner?
Despite that loss, the Steelers finished 12-4 and won their fourth Super Bowl in 1979.
That 1979 meeting at Veterans Stadium wouldn't be the last time the Eagles knocked the Steelers from the ranks of the unbeaten during a championship season.
In 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles defeated the 2-0 Steelers 15-6, sacking Ben Roethlisberger nine times (Niiine tiiimes, as Principal Ed Rooney would say. No relation to the Rooney family that owns the Steelers).
Just like they did 29 years earlier when losing their first game of the season in Philadelphia, the Steelers recovered and won the Super Bowl.
The Steelers have been picked on like a kid brother in the City of Brotherly Love. They haven't won in Philadelphia since 1965.
Sunday's game is at Heinz Field, although playing the Eagles in Pittsburgh has been no picnic for the Steelers.
In 1947, the Steelers lost their first-ever playoff game 21-0 to the Eagles in Pittsburgh. It would be another 25 years before the Steelers returned to the playoffs.
The Steelers were trying to get back to the playoffs for the first time in three years when the Eagles came to Three Rivers Stadium in 2000. The Steelers led 23-13 in the fourth quarter, but lost 26-23 in overtime and dropped to 5-5.
The lasting impression from that game was the Eagles, with no timeouts, scrambling to get a field goal off before time expired in regulation. David Akers made the 42-yard field goal to force overtime, and made another 42-yarder in sudden death to beat a Steelers team that would eventually miss the playoffs.
A much happier snapshot summed up the Eagles' next trip to Pittsburgh in 2004. Hines Ward mimicked Terrell Owens' wing-flapping touchdown celebration after catching a TD pass in the Steelers' 27-3 win at Heinz Field. This time it was the Eagles seeing a perfect season foiled by their in-state foes during a Super Bowl season, falling to 7-1.
The Steelers went on to finish 15-1 that season and reached the AFC Championship Game.
The only other time the Steelers have defeated the Eagles in the last 38 years was in 1994, when they won 14-3 at Three Rivers.
They reached the AFC title game that year, too.
So history tells us that it takes a damn good Steelers team to beat the Eagles. Are the 2012 Steelers good enough?
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