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.