Tempered only by the boundary of being in opposite conferences, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles have a mini-rivalry that dates back to the days of ironmen like Chuck Bednarik and John Henry Johnson.
Before Super Bowls and the American Football League, the two NFL squads met frequently. These battles occurred before the Steel City became synonymous with football glory, and it was the Philadelphia Eagles that would frequently leave the Steelers green (with envy) after a typical victory over Pittsburgh.
If the historian's heart in the football fanatic desired to flip back further into the pages of Pennsylvania's intrastate rivalry, they would one of the most unique bonds between two franchises. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles saw many of their players leave to join the military ranks during World War II. During a highly patriotic era, many players preferred to fight for the country than to play in athletics, and this action deserves great respect.
With a short roster due to the war, the two franchises joined forces, forming a group that is commonly referred to as the "Pitt-Phil Steagles." The team was mediocre with a 5-4-1 record. Yet, it was only the second time the Steelers franchise had a winning season and the first such moment for Philadelphia.
Year later, and after many of the aforementioned battles, the two teams split company as the Steelers migrated to the AFC.
Upon merging with the AFL, the Steelers joined the newly former American Football Conference, while the Eagles remained with most of the traditional NFL squads in the newly formed National Conference.
As such, the contests between the squads grew slimmer. Being from the same state, the bond between the franchises will never be eradicated, sharing a history that is indisputably unique.
One could easily argue that the novelty of their paths crossing in today's NFL ensures an emotional crescendo with each game between the squads. Eastern and Western Pennsylvanians draw battle lines during the rare events, and the pride of two successful football regions is on the line when the current AFC North and NFC East heavyweights battle.
To date, the franchises have not met in the Super Bowl, although they've had multiple opportunities to face off in the ultimate game.
In 2001, both teams lost their conference championship by five and seven points; the franchises were within a touchdown of the big game.
In 2008, the Arizona Cardinals blew a 24-6 lead and trailed 25-24 late in the game. Kurt Warner rallied the red to a surprising victory over McNabb and the Eagles, and the Steelers played Arizona two weeks later in Tampa Bay.
This season, the two teams are again—as normal—among favorites to represent their respective conferences in the Super Bowl. Their preseason meeting will likely evoke more passion from both fanbases than most exhibitions.
With the potential for Pennsylvania to burn this February in a clash of either molten steel and charred bird feathers, it would be wonderful to say that their games tend to go down to the wire.
Actually, in the past, they have.....
In 2000, rookie Donovan McNabb led the Eagles back from a late 23-13 deficit to win 26-23 in overtime during Three Rivers Stadium's final season. Coach Andy Reid exited the building exalting, "How 'bout them Eagles?!"
Since that exhilarating comeback, the teams have met twice with two very different outcomes. For two great franchises that can describe winning as habitual, nailbiters would be expected. Instead, the most recent contests have been the opposite.
No matter where your allegiance lies, there was a cherished and loathed contest one Sunday afternoon for your side of the Keystone State rivalry.
On a sunny afternoon at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, the Steelers came together perfectly to form a buzzsaw that cut right through the Philadelphia Eagles.
While rookie Ben Roethlisberger increased his personal record to 5-0, the Eagles unbeaten mark became blemished for the first time...and it did so loudly!
One of the key stories heading into the weekend's match was the prospect of Duce Staley running against his former team, but it was Jerome Bettis who would run for 149 yards to lead the team.
A week removed from ending the 21-game winning streak of the undefeated New England Patriots, the Steelers quickly went to work, jumping on Philadlephia in similar fashion. In the contest against Boston, Deshea Townsend's interception of Tom Brady gave the Men of Steel a 21-3 lead in the first quarter.
With Terrell Owens and the Eagles in town, the Steelers broke open a three touchdown cushion early in the second quarter, leading 21-0.
To begin the game, the rookie quarterback with the aplomb of a seasoned veteran led his team to a touchdown, repeating the feat on their subsequent offensive possession. On the latter drive, Hines Ward caught a touchdown, his second of the day after a successful reverse earlier in the game. Upon entry into the endzone, Ward placed the football on the ground, put his foot on it and flapped his wings in obvious mockery of Terrell Owens. The celebration was commonplace for T.O. during his team's 6-0 start.
A week removed from mimicking Raw Lewis, Owens appeared frusturated at the transpiring events, and the first signs of fricions between he and McNabb began to show. After the game, the best buds played sidelines exchanges off as encouraging; years later, I think most of us know better.
The Jim Johnson defense looked stunned after the Steelers' third drive resulted in another trip to the endzone and a 21-0 lead.
From the Eagles first offensive possession, which included a rundown of Donovan McNabb by Steelers defensive stalwart James Farrior, to the third touchdown to Jay Reimersma set up by a Ben Roethlisberger scamble to the far right of the field, Philadelphia was completely caught off guard.
The Eagles recomposed themselves, finally stopping the Pittsburgh offense and getting on the scoreboard before halftime. At intermission, the score was 21-3.
The second half was less eventful but far more folly-filled. With an opportunity to embarrass their intrastate foes again, Roethlisberger hit Plaxico Burress up the left sideline, and he broke free toward the endzone.
Terrible Towels twirled again, and the continuous flow of positive energy became deafening cheers once more. Then, he kicked the ball out of his hand (yes, singluar) with his knee. The football bounced out of bounds, and Burress' clear path to the endzone ultimately translated into a missed field goal attempt.
On a dominating day for the Steelers, Plax provided the comic relief for a battered Philadelphia team.
The Eagles did not convert a single third down into a first down (0-for-8). The Steelers outgained the Eagles 420-111 in total yards, including a rushing disparity of 252-23. First downs were also in disproportion, 25-7.
On November 7, 2004, two great teams battled, and only one team looked great. To this day, it remains the only time one team has beaten undefeated teams in consecutive weeks that both had six or more wins.
The Steelers won 27-3.
While the Men of Steel revelled in glory, the Men in Green would glow like kryptonite in a measure of revenge during the 2008 season.
An old saying tells us that turnabout is fair play. In the truest principles of reciprocity, the Eagles avenged a 2004 bludgeoning with their own brand of battery in 2008.
In the 2004 blowout, the Steelers rushed for 252 yards, 149 by Jerome Bettis. The Eagles of '08 had different plans, holding Pittsburgh to under 30 rushing yards.
While interviewed for "America's Game," Ben Roethlisberger references the day that he was sacked nine times. To paraphrase, he notes that the Eagles came from "everywhere" and that his offense had "no answers," stating that "...if this is one game on the schedule and we have one of the toughest schedules in the history of the NFL, it could be a long year."
From kickoff to close, the Steelers offense gained first downs at a premium, stagnated by confusing blitz schemes that applied pressure to Big Ben on nearly every play. Every snap seemed like a a convergence of green, closing in on the big Black and Gold body of the Pittsburgh quarterback.
When Eagles defenders didn't get the sack, they hurried Roethlisberger, knocking him around or forcing him to throw off balance. From contorting his body to desperately scampering, Ben was running for his life all afternoon.
The situation seemed desperate for Pittsburgh from square one, the Eagles defense in constant motion with Pittsburgh acting like the "Stillers," seemingly motionless and helpless.
It was simply one of the most dominant performances by a defensive front in the recent era of Steelers football—and it came from the opponent.
Western Pennsylvania surely breathed a sigh of relief when Donovan McNabb's early turnover, an interception to Troy Polamalu (who else?). Spotted a 3-0 lead, there was hope in Steelers Nation.
Then, Correll Buckhalter took a pass from Donovan McNabb down the left sideline, making a remarkably athletic play to give Philadelphia a 7-3 lead. Down by four points, no towels were about to be thrown in by any Steelers faithful.
As the game progressed and sacks piled up, the lead held into the fourth quarter (10-6). Jeff Reed nailed a 53 yard field goal to silence the Lincoln Financial Field crowd temporarily. A fluke play could have given the Steelers a win despite the beating being taken by the offense.
Hopes withered when Roethlisberger, under heavy pressure again, threw an ill-advised pass from his own endzone. An intentional grounding call gave the Eagles a 12-6 lead, but the deficit seemed like 20 points.
After the Steelers defense did its job, a common occurence during a solid game for the group, the offense received the football late in the game with an opportunity to correct mistakes and steal a win.
Instead, early during the drive, Brian Dawkins forced Ben Roethlisberger to fumble. David Akers put the pigskin through the yellow posts, putting Philadelphia up by the emotional equivalent of 20 billion points.
The Steelers left Philly a battered and bruised squad, though perhaps this toughened their resolve during a season that would end with their hoisting a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
For one day in Eastern PA, they were anything but champions, or at the very least, certainly didn't play like it. The Eagles thoroughly confused the offensive line and had their way, acquiring nine sacks.
In a tale of two games, Philadelphia countered, evening the recent series at 1-1 since the 2002 realignment.
Two great teams battled twice, each allowing to feel the thrill of a dominating victory at the expense of their intrastate rival.