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Staley, Eagles downplay reunion

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, Nov. 4, 2004

Much to the dismay of a mob of reporters looking to incite a cross-state riot, Steelers running back Duce Staley refused to get drawn into the fray.

"No hard feelings. Nothing personal," Staley said Wednesday, when asked about playing against the Eagles, the team that tossed him aside after seven years in Philadelphia.

Staley answered politely when asked if playing the Eagles has a special feel.

"No. No, it doesn't," he said.

But that was before Staley had a chance to talk to teammate and close friend Jerome Bettis about playing against former teammates. For Bettis, it was definitely something special.

The St. Louis Rams traded Bettis to the Steelers in 1996 after coach Rich Brooks had become disenchanted with Bettis and tried to limit his role in the offense. That season, the Rams found themselves on the Steelers' schedule, and Bettis treated the game like a holy war.

He carried 19 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns, including a 50-yard run that remains the longest score of Bettis' Steelers career.

"It motivates you," Bettis said of playing against former employers. "It's one of those situations where you can play with a little bit more pain, do a little more here, a little bit more there. It's one of those things where you want to show them, 'You guys made a mistake in not keeping me.' "

Staley's situation is different. In a perfect world, the Eagles would not have allowed Staley to leave. Coach Andy Reid on Wednesday called Staley "a good player ... a good person ... and a tough guy."

Added quarterback Donovan McNabb: "It's tough losing a guy like Duce. He's a big-time leader. You guys see what he can do. He did that for us so many years. The guys we have here have really stepped their game up and they just try to embrace the memories of a guy like Duce, which is hard."

Although Staley had three 1,000-yard seasons in Philadelphia, the running game isn't a priority there and Staley already was sharing playing time with Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter. There was no room for Staley on the roster or the salary cap.

"We made an effort (to keep Staley)," Reid said. "It wasn't what Duce was going to make in Pittsburgh. This was a perfect situation for Duce, to come to Pittsburgh. It was starter's money and it was an opportunity to carry the football a lot. More power to him."

Staley became a free agent and joined the Steelers when they offered him a five-year, $14 million contract with a $4 million signing bonus.

One team losing Staley and another gaining him has had almost identical results. With McNabb leading the NFL's fourth-ranked passing game, the Eagles (7-0) will bring the league's only unbeaten team into Heinz Field on Sunday to meet the Steelers (6-1).

"I told them I'm a fan, but I'm not going to be rooting for you guys Sunday," said Staley, who didn't practice yesterday, but will play through his knee pain. "I'm happy they are 7-0, but they have to come in here."

Staley, who is fourth in the AFC with 707 rushing yards, said he has nothing to prove to the Eagles.

"I was there seven years, so they know about Duce," he said. "I just want to go out with my teammates and improve to 7-1. That's what's on my mind.

"If it was something personal, I would be showing my teammates I want to be over there, instead of being here. If I go out with an attitude or go out like I have something against those guys over there, they would look at it like 'Duce wishes he was still over there.' That's not the case."

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