Ron Cook: Big Ben better be better than ever

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The best part about Big Ben's visit to Big Ben last week was the picture that captured the moment for history's sake. The photographer did a fabulous job finding just the right angle to make Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger look every bit as tall as the London landmark. Roethlisberger almost seemed larger than life.

That started me thinking.

That's how Roethlisberger must play this season if the Steelers are going to get back to the playoffs and take a run at another Super Bowl. Maybe not larger than life. But better than ever.

The Pirates have been baseball's best story as the All-Star break approaches. The Penguins' many off-season moves also have dominated the news. It's easy to forget the Steelers report to training camp in Latrobe in fewer than three weeks. Roethlisberger gives them their best chance of being successful.

A lot of NFL teams are in a worse spot.

A lot of clubs wish they had a quarterback as good as Roethlisberger.

It should be a fascinating Steelers season if only because of their dramatic off-season makeover. General manager Kevin Colbert said the many, unprecedented changes were necessary because the team last season underachieved, went 8-8 and missed the playoffs. That's true, but the Steelers still have lost a lot of good players. Mike Wallace. Max Starks. Willie Colon. Rashard Mendenhall. Casey Hampton. James Harrison. Keenan Lewis. That doesn't count their 2012 Most Valuable Player, Heath Miller, who's coming off major knee surgery and might not be ready for the season.

It's easy to predict 8-8 again.

Or worse.

You won't read that prediction here, though. I learned a long time ago to never write off a team with Roethlisberger as its quarterback. He's good enough to cover a lot of blemishes.

It's hard to believe Roethlisberger is 31, getting ready for his 10th NFL season. What isn't so stunning is that he's more interested than ever in his legacy. He has always said the only statistic that matters to him is wins. Wins and Super Bowls.

Big Ben was in London not just to pose for pictures with Big Ben but to promote the Steelers game against the Minnesota Vikings Sept. 29 at Wembley Stadium, hawk the NFL brand and increase the already-sizable, European-based Steelers Nation. He created something of a buzz with the British media when he said he hoped to lead the Steelers to five Super Bowls, one more than Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw. That's not exactly news to you, of course. Roethlisberger has been saying that since the Steelers made him their No. 1 draft choice in 2004.

Roethlisberger already has topped Bradshaw as a quarterback for me. Bradshaw played on much stronger teams with eight other Hall of Famers. How many Hall of Fame-caliber teammates has Roethlisberger had? Jerome Bettis for two seasons? Alan Faneca for four? Hines Ward? Troy Polamalu? Maybe Maurkice Pouncey?

But it's still fun to think about the possibility of Roethlisberger winning a third, fourth and even a fifth Lombardi Trophy. He led the Steelers to Super Bowl wins after the 2005 and 2008 seasons. They also made it to Super Bowl XLV after the 2010 season but lost to the Green Bay Packers.

"Absolutely, that's still the goal," Roethlisberger said of winning five rings. "It's not going to be easy. But getting one wasn't easy. Getting two wasn't easy. Getting to a third Super Bowl wasn't easy. If it was easy, a lot more guys would be doing it ...

"I'm not getting any younger, but I feel young. I feel great. That's still the goal and it's got to start this year."

Roethlisberger always is optimistic when camp is about to start. He's optimistic this summer despite losing his top deep threat -- Wallace -- and two of his best friends -- Starks and Colon -- on the offensive line. He feels better about working with offensive coordinator Todd Haley for a second consecutive season. He's also eager to have a better season than last year. He blames himself for the Steelers missing the playoffs for just the third time since he has been quarterback. He threw late, killer interceptions in losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals.

"It killed me, to let your team down, the fans down, your coaches," Roethlisberger said. "I just kind of felt like it was one of those years. I think it's going to make me stronger and better."

You think Big Ben stood tall next to Big Ben?

I have a feeling you haven't seen anything yet.

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Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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