Sunday, September 17, 2006
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Tomorrow night, the Super Bowl arrives early for Jacksonville.
"They call it 'Pittsburgh Week,'" said Steelers safety Mike Logan, who has played on both sides of the game.
"When I was down there preparing for Pittsburgh, they prepared like it was the biggest game on the schedule, regardless of what was going on or where we were standing. They take it pretty seriously."
The Jaguars always have considered the Steelers their biggest rivals, right from the start when as a first-year expansion team, they shocked the Steelers, 20-16, Oct. 8, 1995. That they now play them as the defending Super Bowl champs on a Monday night at home ranks among their biggest games in their 12-year history, right up with that victory against the Steelers in the franchise's sixth game.
"The rivalry," Charles Bailey said, "was brewing."
Bailey serves as the Jaguars' pro personnel director, a job he held with the Steelers when the Jaguars formed in 1995. Tom Coughlin, Jacksonville's first head coach, targeted the Steelers not only as the team to beat in the AFC Central Division, but the one which he would most like to copy.
"During those '90s I think we, the Pittsburgh Steelers, set the tone for what being physical was, what running was and taking one game at time," Bailey said. "I think a lot of teams followed that blueprint, which Bill Cowher and those guys still follow today. We know they're going to run the football, we know they're coming with Blitzburgh. Guys' temperatures go up here when they play the Pittsburgh Steelers."
They play for the 18th time tomorrow night in Jacksonville and while the rivalry may have cooled since the teams went their separate division ways in the NFL realignment in 2002, they played two of their most exciting games of the series in each of the past two seasons.
"Now that the divisions changed and we don't play Jacksonville every year, it seems like it's lessened," Logan said. "But to them, I don't think it does."
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returns to a scene where he pulled off some of the magic that marked his rookie season. Trailing the Jaguars with 1:55 left in a Sunday night game, Roethlisberger led the offense 56 yards on six plays with no timeouts left, and Jeff Reed kicked a 37-yard field goal to win it, 17-16.
Roethlisberger missed the game last season against Jacksonville in Heinz Field Oct. 16 because of a knee injury six days earlier in San Diego. Tommy Maddox replaced him and was terrible; he fumbled away a chance to win the game in overtime, then threw a pass that Jacksonville cornerback Rashean Mathis intercepted and returned 41 yards for a touchdown to give the Jaguars a 23-17 victory.
That also left Jacksonville with a 9-8 edge in the series, one of only two losing records Bill Cowher has against NFL teams in which he has met at least five times.
When in their first season the Jaguars stunned the Steelers, it set the tone for a series often described as physical. Despite that loss, the Steelers would, 31/2 months later, go on to make the Super Bowl. The Jaguars reached the AFC title game in just their second season and followed with records of 11-5, 11-5 and 14-2, and another AFC title game visit.
They did a good job molding themselves after one of the NFL's grand old franchises.