Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Top 5 Games of the Keystone Clash
The "Keystone Clash" elicits a stark division amongst Pennsylvanians. While I will not hyperbolize their games as a Civil War, the two teams' meetings certainly mark a civil struggle between east and west, a throwdown whose prize is at least four years worth of bragging rights.
Rowdy college bars across PA be damned! In the hearts of loyal fans on rare Steelers-Eagles Sundays, everything can burn! Thankfully, all Pennsylvania architecture, landmarks, and... well, civilization... has remained intact following their meetings. Or, more accurately, at least it has of record!
Nevertheless, the closer or more impactful the contest between the two, the more volatile things become between both impassioned fan bases. Steelers fans wants the Eagles to be "green with envy," while Philadelphians would love nothing more than to make the Black and Gold a lil' black n' blue!
Though the two teams met numerous times prior to the AFL-NFL merger, this countdown focuses on the rivals' time as interconference foes, 1970-date. Disproving the notion that absence makes the heart grow fonder, these intermittent nature of these squads' games in today's NFL makes each match more vitriolic...and meaningful!
Sadly for Steeler Nation, the Eagles have won the majority of the contests.
So, which five modern contests have come closest to rendering society in PA into utter anarchist chaos?
Or, to state it in a less sensationalized manner, which are the five best installments of the "Keystone Clash"?
Honorable Mention: Eagles Complete Historic Collapse (1994)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
For three quarters, ugly didn't seem the appropriate word to describe the paltry offense and generally lackluster performance by both teams. Repugnant, repulsive, reviling—all three seemed more fitting descriptors.
For forty-five minutes of game clock, both offensive units wanted to engage in another word with the "re-" prefix: rewind. Or, perhaps they just wanted to retreat!
After the game, journalist Ron Reid wrote about the contest, reflecting:
Earlier this season, when the Steelers beat Cincinnati in an ugly game filled with butchered plays and big mistakes, Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher described the affair with an allusion to the world of fine art.
"Obviously," Cowher said, "it wasn't a Mozart."
Cowher might have used the same metaphor to assess the Steelers' 14-3 conquest of the Eagles. Like its predecessor, yesterday's game had the look of something that should be touched only with an 11-foot pole.
The Eagles' performance was a documented offensive horror that produced 105 total yards, and for 3 1/2 quarters, the Steelers were even worse. They scored zero points on nine possessions blunted by dropped passes, turnovers and failed execution.
So, how does such a game rank fifth on the list? There are a few reasons: an awesome defensive display both ways, a nailbiter of a game, the '93 Eagles' implosion (more on that in a bit!) and another instance of the Steelers coming through when it counted.
In the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh woke up. Ah, another "re-" word: resilience!
On a day where the defense played with utter swagger, the offense finally chipped in. It was about time, as the Eagles led 3-0 after three quarters despite running back Herschel Walker being stuffed and Randall Cunningham's embarrassing 9-for-27 passing display.
The 7-6 Eagles desperately needed to hold on for playoff purposes, but the 10-3 Steelers knew home-field advantage could very well depend on this sloppy victory. In historic fashion, Rich Kotite's squad was in the midst of an epic collapse. After a remarkable 7-2 start, which peaked with a 40-8 thrashing of the eventual champion 49ers, this contest marked a fifth straight loss for Philly.
The Eagles would end up 7-9, and their '93 club is still remembered for having one of the more historic collapses in NFL history.
At long last, the fourth quarter featured an 83-yard touchdown drive, which was capped by a Neil O'Donnell touchdown pass to Andre Hastings. The receiver's scoring grab was gorgeous, a stark contrast to the offense's first fifty minutes of play, a diving catch made behind the Eagles' Derrick Frazier and Greg Jackson. Terrible Towels finally had a reason to torque and twist.
In the span of three minutes, Pittsburgh would score twice, the second touchdown set up by an interception by Darren Perry. John L. Williams, who led the game with 94 rushing yards, extended Pittsburgh's lead on a three-yard burst into the end zone.
Pittsburgh won, 14-3, persevering after a true offensive struggle early. Their comeback also came with starting back Barry Foster, backup runner Bam Morris, tight end Eric Green and All-Pro defensive back Rod Woodson missing all or parts of the game.
Naturally, as tradition to that point commonly had it, the Black and Gold pulled out the win on the backs of a dominant defense. Dom Capers' unit held the Eagles to 105 offensive yards. Capers would become the first head coach of the expansion Carolina Panthers in '95, leading his squad to the NFC Championship Game in only their second season of existence.
No. 5: Hines Ward Mocks Terrell Owens (2004)
Harry How/Getty Images
Philly fans are likely wondering where the Eagles' 2008 thrashing of Pittsburgh, anchored by nine sacks of quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, is absent. After all, if the Steelers' demolition is on the list, where is the Eagles' answer from four years later?
Though they won by a mere 15-6 final score, the game never felt in doubt as the Pittsburgh offense had no answer for Jim Johnson and crew's relentless pass rush.
That result was flipped in their previous meeting in '04.
The Pittsburgh Steelers destroyed the Philadelphia Eagles in a complete throttling, a contest that was never competitive and felt over before it began. The 'Burgh beat the "Brotherly Love" bunch by a 27-3 mark, and the statistics bore out their dominance.
First downs: 25-7
Total yards: 420-113
Thus, its placement in the top five games of the series reflects complete bias... right?
Despite the lopsided nature of the affair, the two teams entered the contest at a combined 13-1 in a season when both would host their respective conference championship games. This was a battle between two championship-worthy opponents.
Likewise, it marked the extension of Big Ben's soon-to-be seemingly endless winning streak to start his career. In fact, this victory marked the second straight week in which the rookie outdueled a heralded passer (Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb) and defeated an unbeaten team. The squads he beat in Weeks 8 and 9 just so happened to be the two participants in the Super Bowl that season.
The undefeated Eagles boasted a dangerous team on both sides of the ball, and their popularity was boosted with the addition of bombastic wideout Terrell Owens.
Donovan McNabb and T.O. had a superb chemistry in the early going. If the fraying of their relationship had an origin, it's possible that the early seeds came in this game.
Hines Ward got the opportunity to mock Terrell Owens, known as T.O....in this case, the acronym translates to mean twice over.
Boys being boys...
Well, Hines Ward is a great dancer in his own right as we all know, and his impression of Chad Ochocinco's river dance was just a sideshow for things to come.
Against Owens, the mocking was more simple: the all-but patented flapping of wings. Owens, a newly christened Eagle, had done much to deserve a taste of his own medicine, including tearing down fans' signs (at Cleveland) and pulling Sharpies from his socks after touchdowns (during his time with the 49ers).
Ward's two scores put the Steelers on top of the undefeated Eagles by first quarter scores of 7-0 and 14-0, respectively.
Hines put the pigskin on the ground, placed one foot on the ball, stood poised, flexed for the crowd and began flapping his limbs like a bird.
An annoyed Owens watched along the sideline, fake smile having been reduced to a cold stare. If ever anyone deserved a jagged pill, Owens certainly deserved those TWO.
By the early second quarter, Pittsburgh led 21-0, a lead they would take into halftime. Ultimately, they would coast to a 27-3 win in a game ranked more for its records, hype, and memorable moments than its competitiveness.
No. 4: Putting a Dent in the Dynasty (1979)
Image courtesy of CBS Sports.
As a member of the L.A. Rams, Ron Jaworski defeated the eventual champion Steelers, 10-3, in 1975. Fast-forwarding four years, "Jaws" would lead the Eagles to a similar result. Though his own individual performance didn't drop "jaws" (shameless, I know...), the "Polish Rifle" certainly had a knack for beating the 'Burgh.
Once again, the Men of Steel would fall to him despite being Super Bowl bound, as the Eagles won 17-14 before a boisterous crowd at Veterans Stadium on September 30, 1979.
Hosting the Black and Gold in those days was the ability to make a statement, the equivalent of taking on those "damn Yankees" or, more literally, having a shot to put a dent in a dynasty. The Steelers had already won three of the previous five Super Bowls, dismantled the defending champion Cowboys (Philly's division rival) months earlier and cemented themselves as favorites to repeat for a second time in the decade.
After all, they entered the contest with a 4-0 record.
Conversely, the Eagles had enjoyed only one winning season since 1962 before coach Dick Vermeil made his team "winners" in 1978. Finally, Philly had more wins than losses, a point that the teary-eyed Vermeil wouldn't let you forget if you talked to him today!
Looking to prove their previous season as a sign of things to come, Philly proudly demonstrated it was no aberration. Already 3-1, the Eagles could match the Steelers in the standings. Pittsburgh, minus playmaker Lynn Swann, struggled to sustain offense.
Ron Jaworski completed only 11 of 20 passes with two interceptions, but his defense won the game. Running back Sidney Thornton opened scoring for the Steelers in the second quarter with a touchdown.
However, Jaws and crew answered before halftime, tying the score with a one-yard run from their own back, Leroy Harris.
After intermission, Philadelphia continued its momentum, forcing turnovers and putting pressure on Terry Bradshaw. The "Blonde Bomber" completed less than half of his passes and had two picks of his own.
Kicker Tony Franklin nailed a 48-yard field goal, no small feat at the time, and Eagles fans erupted with their team taking the lead. That advantage was extended when Wilbert Montgomery scored on another one-yard touchdown, giving Western PA's pride and joy a 17-7 edge.
With their defense shutting down the Steelers, the lead ought as well have been three touchdowns. In the fourth quarter, Terry Bradshaw connected with John Stallworth, who performed admirably in Swann's absence with 102 yards.
Nevertheless, the maturing Eagles won a statement game, 17-14. In the divisional playoffs, they would fall in Tampa Bay, 24-17. One season later, the 1980 Eagles would represent the NFC in a Super Sunday loss to the Raiders.
Though they fell at the Vet, Pittsburgh and receiver John Stallworth would barely remember the loss by season's end.
Winning Super Bowl XIV over the Rams, Ron Jaworski's former team, Stallworth again stepped up during Swann's absence. Lynn left the game right before the fourth quarter, a stanza that saw Stallworth make two of the greatest catches in NFL history. He finished with three grabs for 121 yards and the winning score.
No. 3: Vick Fumbles Away the Win (2012)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Entering the Week 5 contest, the Eagles boasted a 3-1 record and a penchant for winning by narrow margins. Instead, this time around, Philadelphia finally fell by a narrow margin, proving the adage that you "live by and die by the sword."
Steelers are hoped that the returns of Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Rashard Mendenhall would aid them in their pursuit of a .500 record. Mendenhall's presence was a particular boost, giving the club a clear boost in the ground game that it desperately needed.
Mendehall's 81 rushing yards were all vital, particularly his clock-eating runs in the fourth quarter and touchdown in the first half.
Clutch play by key members of the offense, a marvelous first half showing by Lawrence Timmons and the Steelers defensive front, and another perfect day by kicker Shaun Suisham aided the Steelers in victory.
However, two key fumbles lost by quarterback Michael Vick were the most important factor of the contest, causing the Eagles to steal defeat from the jaws of victory. On the goal line, a run up the middle ended when the elusive passer lost the football on a Ryan Clark hit. The turnover cost the Eagles at least three critical points.
Conversely, despite consistent harrassment, Ben Roethlisberger avoided both sacks and critical mistakes.
The win improved the Steelers record in the series to 5-11, a rare victory over an opponent that has troubled them. Let's take a look at the quarter-by-quarter and final game grades for Pittsburgh following their vital return to the "W" column.
For a more detailed overview of the third-ranked contest, check out my recently published live game grades.
No. 2: Exchanging the Lead Eight Times (1988)
Allen Steele/Getty Images
For a decade and a half in the '60s and '70s, the Eagles were an organization left for dead, a perennial loser. The Steelers became a dynasty, arguably the greatest team to ever play the game.
In the '80s, fortunes dramatically changed. By the end of the decade, Pittsburgh reached its lowest point since Chuck Noll became coach in 1969, finishing 5-11. In Philly, Randall Cunningham was electrifying the league, redefining the perimeters that defined "quarterbacking," and leading the Eagles to a winning record.
In his second consecutive great season, Cunningham and crew went to the playoffs, only to get screwed... Isn't that what fans in Philly call it?... by a thick fog at Soldier Stadium. The Bears won the "Fog Bowl" 20-12 in a game that was never technically seen.
On November 13, 1988, the Eagles won a supremely entertaining back-and-forth contest. The Steelers loss gave them a tie for the worst record in the NFL at 2-9, a time that Steel City fans would surely rather forget. In this game, if not for a few mental mistakes, Pittsburgh would have likely beaten the playoff-bound Eagles.
In the early going, it appeared the Steelers would stun the home crowd with a great performance. Taking a handoff from Bubby Brister, receiver Louis Lipps fired a 13-yard dart into the end zone for a touchdown to running back Merrill Hoge, and Pittsburgh led 10-0.
After Philadelphia cut the lead to 10-7, the Steelers drove again. That's when the slew of little mistakes that took defeat from the jaws of victory began.
ERROR ONE: Weegie Thompson (raise your hand if you remember him... um, anyone?) pulled out his finest Limas Sweed impression, snagging a touchdown pass—eh, never mind... he dropped it! Instead of seven points and a double-digit lead, the Steelers settled for a Gary Anderson field goal.
ERROR TWO: Cunningham and the Eagles were unable to respond, or at least it initially appeared so. Tim Johnson sacked the elusive passer (or, is it runner?) on 3rd-and-10. However, defensive end Aaron Jones smacked Eagles' tackle Ron Heller on the helmet. The personal foul gave the Eagles new life.
Philadelphia responded with a Cunningham scramble (It is runner!) around the right end, giving them a 14-13 lead.
Gary Anderson's second field goal gave Pittsburgh a halftime lead. After falling behind 17-16, Pittsburgh celebrated as Louis Lipps took part in a second touchdown, an 89-yard gamebreaker from Brister.
ERROR THREE: Ahead 23-17, the Steelers defense appeared to make a fantastic stop to start the fourth quarter. Randall Cunningham was nailed by Greg Lloyd on a fierce pass rush, and Rod Woodson intercepted the football deep in Pittsburgh territory. However, Lloyd's collision was head-first with the quarterback and, more importantly at the time, came after he released the ball.
The result was a first down, and Cunningham's second rushing touchdown came right up the gut. The Eagles led 24-23.
Again, Gary Anderson answered with a field goal, and Pittsburgh led at the two-minute warning 26-24. Yet, we all know how things tend to go for teams that forgo touchdowns for field goals.
On the game's final drive, a win or lose possession for the Eagles, Philly faced 3rd-and-10 at midfield. Randall Cunningham floated a pass down the sideline to Cris Carter. Yes, that Cris Carter, of future Vikings fame!
ERROR FOUR: Defensive back Lupe Sanchez was in great position to defend the play and he came up from his zone spot for what appeared a clear would-be interception. Then, he tripped and fell over... nothing!
Though he had position on Carter, Sanchez's slip left the receiver wide open, and Carter snagged the pass at the eight-yard line. The play set up the winning field-goal attempt, and Luis Zendejas kicked the pigskin between the pylong for a 26-24 Eagles win.
No. 1: McNabb's Mighty Comeback (2000)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
The top two spots on our list are certainly sore sights for Steelers fans' eyes. They illustrate the Eagles as a thorn in Pittsburgh's side, leading the series 11-4 in the Super Bowl era.
The countdown concludes with another Philadelphia win at Three Rivers Stadium, and another game in which the Steelers let victory slip away—just as they had in our No. 2 selection.
None of the eleven losses in the series were as painful in the 'Burgh as the 2000 defeat. It was the final season of football at Three Rivers Stadium. Attending the game, I sat right above the tunnel where the Eagles exited after overtime, and I vividly recall Andy Reid looking up at our crowd and exclaiming, "How 'bout 'dem Eagles?!"
Moment earlier, such a moment would have seemed impossible. Or, at least improbable!
For first-year full-time starter Donovan McNabb, this would be a coming of age as a bonafide elite NFL quarterback.
Down 23-13 in the fourth quarter, the Eagles had been unable to run the ball in support of their young passer, barely had 100 yards of offense, and appeared completely overwhelmed. In the third quarter, McNabb had a stretch of five straight incomplete passes and two sacks in seven dropbacks. The clear edge in performance went to Pittsburgh.
A Kris Brown field goal gave the 'Burgh a 10-point lead with 3:47 to play.
However, rebounding from a sluggish start, Donovan put the team on his back and almost single-handedly knocked off Pittsburgh. For the Steelers, who had everything to play for with a 5-4 record, the collapse and loss would be like a punch in the gut. Pittsburgh had fought back from an 0-3 start to put themselves in the playoff picture, making their implosion as sudden as it was stunning. Despite the setback, they would finish 9-7, but missing the playoffs by a single win certainly left fans wondering "what if?"
In the moment, that thought was more along the lines of "what the #@#@?"
On a day where he amassed 55 passing attempts, McNabb completed all four throws on a drive that ate up far too little clock for Steelers fans' tastes. Torrance Small, Stanley Pritchett (2) and Brian Mitchell took less than a minute. The 13-yard strike to Mitchell cut the lead to 23-20.
When the Eagles' Tim Hauck recovered a high-bouncing onside kick, an ominous feeling set over Three Rivers Stadium. "Uh-oh."
After a false start penalty, Philly faced 1st-and-15, only to gain 13 yards on first down on an unexpected run (considering the clock) by Stanley Pritchett. After an incomplete pass, McNabb hit his back with a third down pass to extend the drive.
Then, on 3rd-and-5 at midfield, McNabb hit Torrance Small for 19 yards. Though the drive stalled with no additional first downs, Philadelphia's David Akers tied the game with a field goal, 23-23.
In overtime, to top everything off, the Eagles won the coin toss. Anyone could have predicted the ending. After all, John Elway was on the opposing sideline, or so it seemed...
Another third-down pass to Charles Johnson continued McNabb's theatrics, though the real dagger was his 16-yard pass to Stanley Pritchett that put the ball at the Steelers' 28-yard line.
David Akers won the game, and Andy Reid got his chance to say good-bye to our congregation of fans in the stands.
Man, I really need to repress that memory...