Questions about Roethlisberber's famous thumb make sparks fly

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Bill Cowher has grown tired of getting the thumb's rush, ostensibly from the news media at his news conferences but perhaps from the owner of the Steelers' celebrated thumb himself, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Cowher erupted in apparent frustration when he was pressed about the issue at his news conference yesterday.

The coach listed Roethlisberger as probable for the third consecutive week because of his right thumb that was injured against Indianapolis Nov. 28. Cowher has declined to elaborate on the injury, about what specifically is wrong with it or how the injury might affect his quarterback.

He said yesterday that Roethlisberger's injury was not a reason the Steelers ran so much against Chicago Sunday. KDKA's John Shumway began a follow-up question about the thumb when Cowher interrupted him with a plea.

"Hey, John, you got to let that go, man," Cowher said. "You got to let it go, honestly. I'm not going to answer any more about that, really. Let it go. I mean, c'mon. Talk to [Roethlisberger]. I'm not going to talk about it, so don't ask me questions. You can talk to him. You don't have to ..."

As Shumway started to ask another question, Cowher cut him off by saying, "Let it go, John, let it go."

Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws in front of Bears Ian Scott during a snowstorm in the third quarter Sunday.

Regardless of the extent of Ben Roethlisberger's thumb injury, he completed 13 of 20 passes for 173 yards Sunday against Chicago.
Click photo for larger image.

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I'm not going to answer any more about [Ben's thumb]. Let it go. I mean, c'mon ...

-- Bill Cowher, Dec. 13, 2005


Shumway then asked a question that may have struck more at the heart of Cowher's impatience.

"When your quarterback says he can't throw past 40 yards, doesn't that affect the game plan?"

Cowher glared and then ended the matter when he said, "I answered you."

It's probable the issue is more coach/quarterback than it is coach/reporter, and it may go back to January. Roethlisberger announced to the news media two days after the Steelers lost to New England in the AFC championship game that he played with "a couple of broken toes" that were injured in the second half of the AFC championship game, prompting Cowher to steadfastly deny any toes were broken.

"We are unaware of any problems with his toes," Cowher said.

CBS-TV reported during a playoff game against the Jets Jan. 15 that Roethlisberger injured his right thumb, and they showed him shaking it as if it hurt. Roethlisberger and Cowher insisted that day that nothing was wrong with his hand.

There have been reports that Roethlisberger's right thumb is broken, but neither he nor Cowher have said precisely what the injury is. One person in the organization said there may be a "little crack" in the thumb.

Many on the team do not believe that the thumb is seriously injured and that it does not affect the quarterback's play much. Indeed, Roethlisberger threw for career highs against Cincinnati in his first game with his thumb injury, wearing a protective device under his glove -- 29 completions in 41 attempts for 386 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. And Sunday he produced a superb 109.0 passer rating by completing 13 of 20 passes for 173 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions to help the Steelers beat the Chicago Bears, 21-9.

Yet, Roethlisberger's only pass completion beyond 17 yards Sunday came on a short toss on a screen that Willie Parker turned into a 45-yard reception. This came days after Roethlisberger stood in the locker room last Wednesday and said his thumb was "pretty bad. It's painful."

He went on to relate that he apologized to Cedrick Wilson for underthrowing a deep pass against the Bengals that the receiver had to come back and catch for a 41-yard reception. He said he probably would have thrown for a touchdown on that play if he were healthy.

"It just affects you when you throw," Roethlisberger said.

He also said he might have to have surgery on his thumb after the season. He said after the game on Sunday that his thumb "felt good."

"I didn't get it hit today, so that's always a plus," Roethlisberger said. "So hopefully we can get another week of rehab."


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3878.


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