Like one of those undecided voters in the days leading up to Tuesday's election, running back Duce Staley reserves the right to change his mind.
Staley, in his first season in Pittsburgh after seven years with the Eagles, had rejected all requests by the Philadelphia media to speak about his tenure with and feelings toward his former team, who take on the Steelers on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field. He was so adamant on that point that he initially declined to take part, by telephone, in a group interview session with reporters Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex. The Steelers' sensational rookie quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, was to have audibilized in Staley's stead.
But upon further review, Staley decided that his silence perhaps was sending the wrong message. He has been around long enough to know that "no comment" can be misconstrued as anger, frustration, or a need for payback, none of which reflect his genuinely warm regards toward his first NFL city and its franchise.
"I had a chance to think about the situation," Staley said of his brief, self-imposed Philly media blackout. "I owe you guys a lot. You did a lot for me. I want to apologize for telling you 'no' in the beginning. I have a lot of friends [in Philadelphia]. This is the least I could do."
Apology accepted. So, Duce, doesn't it mean just a little bit more to be going against an organization that no longer thought you had what it took to be a featured back?
"To be honest with you, every game is special," Staley said. "I know you guys are sitting back and saying, 'Okay, Duce, give me something, give me something.' But I'm being real. We're trying to do something special here. We're trying to build."
It is obvious that Staley -- who's had four 100-yard games for the Steelers (6-1) -- is, along with Roethlisberger, one of the major additions to a team that already has matched its victory total from 2003 when it went 6-10.
Staley, the consummate team man, might be described as the anti-T.O. in that he doesn't engage in the sort of celebratory antics that have marked showman/wide receiver Terrell Owens's first season with the Eagles. And that's not just because Staley, who leads the Steelers with 707 yards rushing, has scored only one touchdown to eight for short-yardage specialist Jerome Bettis.
"To be honest with you, by the time I get down [by the goal line], I'm soooo tired," said Staley, who more or less plays the role of Curt Schilling to Bettis's Keith Foulke. "It's like an alarm going off inside my helmet. Ding, ding, ding. Once you get inside the 10, this noise starts going off. That means it's time for me to come out."
Not being critical of his coach or his circumstances is standard procedure for Staley. He mostly kept his thoughts to himself last season when Eagles Coach Andy Reid restricted his touches by using him as part of a three-back rotation with Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter. There could be no denying it was a demotion of sorts for someone who had logged three 1,000-yard seasons with the Eagles, and three times had been named the team's most valuable player or co-most valuable player on offense.
It was Staley's sense of stoicism, however, that made Steelers Coach Bill Cowher think he might just be the guy to fit into a similar situation. Cowher's idea was to ride Staley as the workhorse, but keep the 32-year-old Bettis involved as a pile-mover in the red zone.
"Duce came from an unselfish team and he came to another one," Cowher said. "He is the ultimate professional. The more you're around a guy like Duce Staley, the more you appreciate him."
Staley probably would have been happy continuing to be appreciated in Philadelphia, but he can read his future as easily as he can pick up blitzes. The Eagles were committed to Westbrook and Buckhalter, both of whom are now injured, and they weren't going to use up much of their precious salary-cap space on a part-time player, even one with his sort of work ethic.
Still, the fact that he was going to have to go elsewhere to advance his career chaffed at Staley for a while.
"It took some time," he admitted. "It took a little time for me to actually grasp that and move on. But you have to understand, it took some time for a lot of players -- Bobby [Taylor], Troy [Vincent], myself and some others. We had such a great run there."
Once the disappointment of becoming a former Eagle subsided, however, Staley's feelings softened. Maybe you can't go home again, but you can look back on where you've been with fondness.
"I'm still a fan," Staley said of the Eagles. "I still have a lot of friends on that team. I'm rooting for them. Of course I am. But not this week. I'm a Steeler now. I moved on and that's that."
Cowher said he understands why Staley is saying that the Eagles are just another opponent, but he isn't buying it.
"It's special," he said. "There's no question. Now, Duce will approach this game no differently than any other because he has that same vigor, enthusiasm and fire before every game. But you can't take away the fact that when you have a chance to play against a former team, whether you're a player or a coach, there's something special about that. It's a very natural feeling."