Splat go the Eagles

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

To the delight of the fans in a city that made him famous, Franco Harris was wearing black and gold and back on the football field yesterday.

So was Mean Joe Greene, Lynn Swann and a dozen other Pittsburgh Steelers legends.

Despite the rumours circulating around the league, Jerome Bettis isn't quite ready to join them in retirement.

As hearty as the Heinz Field cheers were for a 25th anniversary tribute to the 1979 Super Bowl champs, the biggest bursts were reserved for the man they call the Bus.

Filling in for an injured Duce Staley, Bettis chugged along, pounding a suspect Philadelphia Eagles run defence into submission.

And when the roadkill was carted off following a 27-3 Steelers win, it was soiled with the skidmarks of No. 36.

Led by Bettis' clock-inhaling 149 yards on 33 carries and two Hines Ward touchdowns, the Steelers (7-1) physically dominated to shake the Eagles (7-1) off their undefeated perch.

"I've still got it," said the 32-year-old Bettis, who had his most productive game in three seasons. "A lot of people around the league said I don't and a lot of the fair-weather Bus fans turned their back on me.

"Am I still the same running back that I was at 25? No, but I am still a damn good running back."

As a whole, the Steelers proved much more in front of a gold-towel waving record crowd of 64,975.

A week after snuffing the New England Patriots' 21-game win streak, this time they bumped off the best team in the NFC. No longer are they they just the feel-good story surrounding rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who looked like a big-time veteran again yesterday.

Dare they dream it, fans in the Iron City are starting to think of the Super Bowl in a tense other than past.

As much as the city has gone bonkers over Big Ben -- who completed 11 of 18 attempts yesterday for 183 yards and two touchdowns -- the win yesterday was vintage, pound-the-opposition-into-submission Steelers football.

"The last couple of weeks, we wanted to measure where we really are," Ward said. "We have an idea now."

Exploiting the porous Eagles defensive front, the Steelers held the ball for a remarkable 41 minutes and 49 seconds. So dominant was the offence that they didn't attempt a punt for the first time in club history.

With the 'O' on the field so long, the fresh 'D' was able to mercilessly attack the Eagles two most wanted men -- quarterback Donovan McNabb and receiver Terrell Owens.

"The plan was to stop No. 5 (McNabb) and T.O.," linebacker Jerry Porter said. "After that, what do they have?"

Apparently not much. Though Owens had seven catches, they were for a combined 53 yards.

"They beat us up in every phase of the game," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "I think there are games that get away from you and that is what happened here."

The favoured Eagles thought they had a defensive plan that would work. At times, they sent as many as six linebackers blitzing Roethlisberger, but the rookie wouldn't flinch.

On key third downs in the first quarter, he scrambled 16 yards for a first down, rolled out of the pocket to complete an 18-yard pass to Verron Hayes on another and hit Ward for a 20-yard TD strike on a third.

Roethlisberger, who was just 10 when Bettis broke into the league a dozen years ago, was leading the post-game cheers for the man of the moment.

"That is why he is the mayor of this city," Roethlisberger said. "A lot of people think that he is getting too old to play or whatever so he answered his critics. He stepped up."

Up, over and through an Eagles team that may still be wondering what hit them.


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