Giants, Steelers rooted in history

Eli Manning and Justin Tuck are surrounded by

Eli Manning and Justin Tuck are surrounded by cameras as they celebrate after their victory in Super Bowl XLVI. (Feb. 5, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

The Giants and Steelers have a lot in common. They are two traditional NFL franchises, family-owned from the beginning. They've had a string of Super Bowl successes. Heck, they even nabbed their current franchise quarterbacks within an hour or so of each other on draft day in 2004.

"You don't get any more traditional than the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said at the beginning of the week.

Traditional, yes. Traditional rivalry? Far from it. Even though the two teams have appeared in five of the last seven Super Bowls (winning four) and have combined to capture a total of 10 Lombardi Trophies with 13 appearances in the big game, they've barely bumped into each other since the Steelers went to the AFC as part of the 1970 merger.

They used to be rivals. The teams met every season from 1933 through 1969, except when the series was interrupted by World War II in 1943 and '44. Even back then, they never met for an NFL championship. Since the merger, they've played only eight times, none in a Super Bowl.

On Sunday they meet again, for the first time since 2008. And though they are not familiar foes, when they look across the field at each other, there will be a hint of recognition. You don't have to be Academy Award-nominated actress Rooney Mara -- an heir of both franchises' founding families -- to see the resemblance.

"I obviously see potentially how one could talk about some of the similarities," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

There are some common themes that have allowed each franchise to achieve its success.

"I think it comes down from the top," Justin Tuck said. "You talk about the Rooneys, the Maras, the Tisches, it filters from the top. You have two franchise quarterbacks, teams that have been known for their defenses, two tough-minded franchises that know how to win football games.

"It's not always flashy, it's not always what people want to see, but they are constantly in the mix, and I think that is the similarity."

In recent years, some of that "traditional recipe" has gone away. Both teams used to be known for hard-nosed running games, but since they acquired Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger on the same day in April 2004, they've evolved.

"Both teams have become more passing teams in the past few years," Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "That's when they've had their success."

That's the case this year. Both are among the top teams passing the football, the Giants sixth in the NFL with 282.1 yards per game and the Steelers seventh with 272.6. In many other statistical comparisons, the teams also are on near parallels.

The only major difference between them is in their secondaries. Though the Steelers give up way fewer yards (a league-best 183 passing versus the Giants' 274, 26th in the league), the Giants' league-leading total of 24 takeaways dwarfs the Steelers' seven, which is the second-fewest in the NFL. Yes, Stevie Brown has as many takeaways this season as the Steelers.

There's also the difference in record. The Giants are 6-2 and standing far atop the NFC East, and the Steelers are 4-3 and a game behind the Ravens in the AFC North. But if recent history has shown anything, it's that both teams have the potential to make a run to the Super Bowl. Perhaps, even, at the same time for once?

"It's just one of those things," Tuck said of the franchises never meeting for a title. "Hopefully, we get an opportunity this year."

Beckum activated. The Giants activated tight end Travis Beckum (knee) from PUP Saturday, and he might be needed right away with backup TE Bear Pascoe (ankle) listed as questionable. To make room on the 53-man roster, the Giants waived G Mitch Petrus.

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