By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles generally play once every four years, with a smattering of preseason meetings, since the two are in different NFL conferences.
The Pirates and Phillies square off seven times each baseball season since the two are in different National League divisions. The Penguins and Flyers are in he NHL’s Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference, so the two face off six times each season.
The sport doesn’t matter with intrastate rivals Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, because each city’s fan base really doesn’t like or respect the other’s teams. And that won’t change when the Steelers and Eagles meet Sunday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field.
“We definitely want to get back on track,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said when asked if this was a big game. “But, in just talking to the Philly media, it’s probably just as much Pittsburgh versus Philadelphia. … Like you said, it’s not a division game, it’s AFC versus NFC, but no matter what sport it is it seems to be Pittsburgh versus Philly and a general hatred.
“That’s what I’ve noticed since I moved here about Philadelphia. I think it’s just as much that, too. (And) I’m always rooting for the Pittsburgh team. There’s no doubt about that. I like to watch the fans boo the Flyers, so I boo, too.”
Steelers wideout Mike Wallace did not buy into the game being important because of a natural hatred between the two teams.
“Sure, it’s a big game because it’s an intrastate rivalry,” Wallace said. “But we have to get a win this week to get back to .500. We don’t want to lose another game here at this point in the season. Everybody around here knows that, so we’re focused and ready to go. That’s what is important to us.”
Steelers safety Ryan Clark took it a step farther when asked about the rivalry.
“That must be for you all, the media and the fans, because I really don’t care,” Clark said. “Right now, we’re a 1-2 football team who’s playing against a good Eagles football team that’s 3-1. So, it’s a regular-season game against an NFC opponent that’s playing pretty well.
“So, this is a game that we feel we need to win. … It’s about the name on our helmets and also the names on our backs. You want to go out there and perform. We worked hard in the offseason and the preseason, and now it’s time to start performing well in the regular season.”
There’s one Eagles player who shouldn’t get a rude welcome from the Pittsburgh fans. Running back LeSean McCoy, a Harrisburg native, played two seasons at Pitt and was a fan favorite.
“I hope the fans react well, but I won’t be mad if they don’t,” the ebullient McCoy said. “(But) I’m a Philadelphia Eagle, and this is a big game for the fans. They’re 1-2, and this is a big game for them. They never have a record like that. They’re always winning. They’re a tough team.”
McCoy’s top memory from a dozen games at Heinz Field was a performance against West Virginia that helped the Panthers secure a 19-15 victory against their backyard rival. McCoy ran for a career-best 183 and carried the ball nine times in a 10-play game-winning possession. His second rushing touchdown, scored with 52 seconds remaining, provided the winning margin.
“I have so many good memories there, (and) I have tons of ticket (requests),” McCoy said. “I have to get ready for this Sunday. A lot of my old teachers, friends and coaches will be at the game. (And) I’m excited to be back.”
Steelers fans, however, might not be as thrilled.