PITTSBURGH -- This is no ordinary game for Duce Staley, and the Steelers' running back knows it. The team he plays for knows it. The team across the
state he once played for knows it, too.
Any player would find it difficult to depart a team after seven seasons, especially after three consecutive losses in the NFC title game, without
leaving some emotional baggage behind.
Any player would find it very difficult to line up against his former team in one of the biggest games all season without feeling an extra tug of
Staley is trying to downplay Sunday's matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles (7-0), the NFL's only remaining unbeaten team and the one whose colors
he wore from 1997 through last season. He's not totally convincing.
"Let me stop you right there before we go further: Nothing," Staley said Wednesday after being asked if this is an emotional game for him. "Of course
it's going to be a good game ... good team, good defense. We're just trying to better our record."
Staley, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher in Philadelphia, left the Eagles after his production -- and his carries -- were cut considerably while
rotating with Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter. With Pittsburgh, he has gained 707 yards for a team that is 6-1 only a year after it was 2-5 at
this stage of the season.
Just another game? Yeah, right.
"Now he really gets the opportunity to show his wares," running back Jerome Bettis said. "And it's one of those things where you want to show them,
'Hey, you guys made a mistake in not keeping me.' "
Bettis had a similar game in 1996, rushing for 129 yards and two touchdowns as the Steelers beat the Rams 42-6 months after he left St. Louis for
"But I don't have anything personal to prove to them. I was there seven years so they know about Duce," said Staley, who signed a $14 million,
five-year contract with Pittsburgh. "If it was something personal, I think I would be showing my teammates I wanted to be over there instead of being
here. That's not the case."
Steelers coach Bill Cowher understands it's only human nature for Staley to want to have a big game Sunday.
"To say he won't be inspired would be less than honest," Cowher said. "But it really will not change how he approaches the game because, with this
guy, you know what you are getting every Sunday."
Signing Staley and drafting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger were the Steelers' only two major offseason moves, but they have made a huge difference in
a team that, by this stage of last season was effectively out of playoff contention.
The Steelers have rushed for 1,034 yards in seven games, only 454 fewer than they had during their 6-10 season last year. Staley has four 100-yard
games and the offensive line has been strong and steady even after losing starting right guard Kendall Simmons to a season-ending knee injury during
"I don't think anybody really talks about it or hears about it, but as an offensive line we really need to get in a rhythm," left guard Alan Faneca
said. "It's a little tough to call a run play only every so often and get a good feel for it. Now, it's awesome. I think we've been excited about it
from the first couple of preseason games when we realized we were going to run the ball."