Shed memory of his not-so-super performance in Detroit and play a huge role as leader of team
February 1, 2009 5:00 AM
Ben Roethlisberger's image hangs large on one side of Raymond James Stadium this week. Fitting, considering the shadow he has cast over the buildup to the game.
By Gerry Dulac Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It's not that Ben Roethlisberger didn't mean it. Or that he was going to renege on what he told Jerome Bettis -- heck, promised him -- a year earlier.
Come back for one more season, the quarterback told his lumbering running back after the 2004 season, and he will deliver Bettis and the rest of his teammates to the Super Bowl.
And when Bettis did return, well ... uh ... there was no turning back.
When Roethlisberger was running through the tunnel at Ford Field in Detroit, getting ready to face the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, the enormity of where he was, of what he might be able to accomplish, of what he had promised to Bettis for his farewell tour, began bubbling inside Roethlisberger.
Nerves that were present and eventually went away in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver checked in for a 24-hour stay in Roethlisberger's system and never left.
"I wasn't nervous going into any of those other games," Roethlisberger said. "I was expecting another big game."
The quarterback who was given the keys to the Steelers' offense and drove them Maserati-style through the AFC playoffs never could get out of second gear against the Seahawks. Sure, he threw a big 37-yard pass to Hines Ward to set up his 3-yard touchdown scramble. Yes, he executed a huge block on the trick play that resulted in Antwaan Randle El's 43-yard touchdown pass to Ward in the fourth quarter.
And, most important, the Steelers had won their fifth Super Bowl trophy, beating the Seahawks, 21-10, to make Roethlisberger the youngest winning quarterback in Super Bowl history.
But the quarterback who was so productive against the Bengals, Colts and Broncos was so surprisingly shell-shocked and ineffective against the Seahawks. He completed just 9 of 21 passes for 123 yards, had the lowest passer rating of any winning quarterback in Super Bowl history (22.6) and was intercepted twice -- none more damaging than the one in the third quarter that was returned 76 yards to set up Seattle's only touchdown.
"After the game, you're so excited that you won the game, that's the most important thing," Roethlisberger said. "It was the months and years after that. You start thinking, 'Man, you played really bad.' I didn't help this team win a football game.
"That kind of eats at you a little bit. That kind of makes you think you want to get back and play better next time."
It is three years later, and Roethlisberger is getting a chance at redemption. The Steelers are back in the Super Bowl, getting ready to face the Arizona Cardinals tonight in Raymond James Stadium, and the fifth-year quarterback has not forgotten.
It is the not the nerves that are bothering him this time. It is the memory.
"He's matured as a player, as a person," said defensive end Brett Keisel, Roethlisberger's best friend on the team. "When you're a young kid like that and you have the type of season he had from the get-go -- 15-1 his rookie year, lost a big AFC championship game, told Jerome that if he came back we'd win another championship -- I think he took a lot of weight on his shoulders.
"He might have been a little nervous in that game because his words to Jerome were coming true. And he wanted to make sure he delivered for him. "
This, though, is different.
This is not Detroit. This is not Jerome Bettis' team. If anything, it is Roethlisberger's team, and the only promises being made are the ones Roethlisberger made to himself.
"He is the leader of the team," said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. "He's one of the guys. Back then it was Jerome, Hines [Ward], Kimo [von Oelhoffen], all the older veterans. Now it's his team, it's his offense. Once you hit that level, you don't want to mess up. He takes it on his shoulders to win ballgames. Anytime you get on a big stage and don't do what you've dreamt about as kid, you're disappointed."
Twice is nice
Either Ben Roethlisberger or Kurt Warner will join an exclusive fraternity of quarterbacks tonight that have won the Super Bowl twice in their careers. The club's members:
4 Rings: Terry Bradshaw, Steelers and Joe Montana, 49ers
3 Rings: Tom Brady, Patriots and Troy Aikman, Cowboys
2 Rings: Bart Starr, Packers, Roger Staubach, Cowboys, Bob Griese, Dolphins, Jim Plunkett, Raiders and John Elway, Broncos
Although Arizona's Kurt Warner is officially the second quarterback to start for two teams in a Super Bowl (Craig Morton is the other), there is a third who played a major role in helping his team get there. Earl Morrall took the 1968 Colts to SB III and then started nine games in the '72 Dolphins' perfect season.
There are nine quarterbacks who have won more than one Super Bowl. That number will grow by one today. Like Roethlisberger, Arizona's Kurt Warner has won a Super Bowl.
Warner, though, was the game's MVP when he led the St. Louis Rams to a 23-16 victory against the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, passing for a record 414 yards. He does not seek personal retribution.
"He's on a mission," said Ward, the MVP of Super Bowl XL. "He really wants to go out and redeem himself. We won a Super Bowl as a team, but he didn't play like he wanted to play. He wants to go out there and put on a great show, help this team win a Super Bowl. I know he's excited to get a second opportunity to go out there and really solidify himself as one of the better quarterbacks in this league."
No one-man show
Do not mistake Roethlisberger's desire to redeem himself for delusions of grandeur. Or, worse, self-importance. He does not enter the game thinking the Steelers cannot win without him.
"To me, it's all about winning," Roethlisberger said. "I don't care how I do it. If I throw for 300 yards or I throw for 100 yards, if we win the game that's all that matters.
"Of course, I do want to play better than I did last time. I felt like I let the guys down and didn't help them win the game. I'm not going to say it's all on my shoulders, but, if I turn the ball over and I play poorly, I'm not going to help our offense and help us win this game."
It has been that way through the playoffs, in victories against the San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens.
They were not accomplished in the same manner as the 2005 postseason victories against the Bengals, Colts and Broncos, games in which Roethlisberger came out throwing and passed for 680 yards and seven touchdowns. Roethlisberger passed for 181 yards against the Chargers, 255 against the Ravens, with just one touchdown in each.
Rather, Roethlisberger has been more judicious with the ball, rarely, if at all, forcing a throw into coverage and throwing the ball away under pressure. More important, he has not been intercepted. But, just as impressively, he has made plays when he had to, particularly on third down. Witness the 65-yard touchdown by Santonio Holmes against the Ravens, a play in which Roethlisberger escaped pressure and threw across the field on third-and-9.
"He doesn't have to think, 'I got to go win this by myself.' That doesn't have to happen," Arians said. "He has 10 guys out there with him all the time. That's what he's done so well this whole season -- let the game come to him. Don't force it. It's one thing to play scared and another to play smart. He has played smart."
And in pain.
Playing in pain
It has been a different road traveled for Roethlisberger this season, even difficult.
His throwing shoulder was separated in the season opener against Houston when he was sacked by defensive end Mario Williams, one of 46 sacks he endured this season, one of 139 in the past three seasons. The injury limited his practice time and robbed him of his arm strength, chipping away at Roethlisberger's effectiveness and, for several games, taking away the deep pass -- a staple in Arians' offense. In Week 8, he aggravated the injury sneaking for a 1-yard touchdown against the Washington Redskins and did not return for the second half.
Just when his arm was beginning to feel good again, Roethlisberger sustained a spinal cord concussion in the season finale against the Cleveland Browns, momentarily losing the sensation in his arms and having to be carted from the field on a spinal board. In the AFC championship game victory against Baltimore, he was drilled from the side by Ravens safety Haruki Nakamura, an injury that caused him to momentarily leave the field in pain.
Through it all, Roethlisberger never missed a start. But, with such rapid recoveries has come a curious charge: That Roethlisberger is a "drama queen," that his injuries are never as severe as they are portrayed. Former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson used those words to describe Roethlisberger earlier this season, an insinuation that bothers those with the Steelers who know Roethlisberger's tolerance to play with pain.
"I get a little upset when I hear somebody on television who calls him a 'drama king,' " Arians said. "This guy has approached the border. He takes a lot of hits because he plays backyard football sometimes and he gets up swinging."
It's the same mentality Roethlisberger brings to Super Bowl XLIII. He wants to come out swinging, determined to erase the hit he took for his performance against the Seahawks.
Roethlisberger began the season with a wrap on his injured shoulder. He is ending it with the weight of personal redemption on his shoulder.
"I'm sure," Keisel saiod, "if he has any feelings that he played poorly in the last game, he wants to show not only himself, but anyone else who might have doubted him, what type of player he is and what type of character he has."