The only surprising thing about Ben Roethlisberger earning the Steelers MVP award today is that it is the quarterback's first such honor.
Roethlisberger returns on Sunday to the place where it all began for him, in Miami in 2004 in a hurricane's wake. It was his first start in a remarkable season that was like no other, becoming the only rookie quarterback in history to win all 13 starts.
And it only got better: Two Super Bowl victories, one in which he took over on the winning last-minute drive, and most every Steelers passing record within his grasp. Many of those were set this season when he became the first Steelers quarterback to pass for 500 yards in a game and the first to pass for 4,000 yards in a season.
Yet when it comes to voting, Steelers players long have been reluctant to cast their ballots for a quarterback. Roethlisberger becomes only the fifth team MVP from his position in the 41 years the award has been passed out. Kordell Stewart was the most recent quarterback to win, in 2001. Neil O'Donnell earned MVP in 1995 and Terry Bradshaw in 1977 and 1978.
Of all his spectacular success in past seasons, including his Pro Bowl year of 2007, this may be Roethlsiberger's best. He's passed for 4,108 yards in 14 games, and his 503-yard performance in a 37-36 victory against Green Bay likely was his best ever.
"Maybe," Roethlisberger said as to whether this has been his best season. "Statistically I think so in certain categories. I've never missed a practice. It's the first time in six years I've never missed a practice because of injury or whatever. So I think that has translated onto the football field and my play has been better."
He was scratched from one game at nearly the last minute because of lingering effects of a concussion.
"Whether it's the no-huddle or understanding offenses better, I think you can say it's been one of my better years."
Like his teammates, he has been disappointed with many aspects of the season, most notably that five-game losing streak after they started 6-2. This, even though Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward have 1,000 yards receiving, Rashard Mendenhall topped 1,000 yards rushing and Heath Miller set the team tight end record with 71 receptions.
Yet they still have a chance, albeit slight, to squeeze into the playoffs with a victory in Miami, which is where Roethlisberger started it all.
That game, the fourth of the 2004 season, was pushed from afternoon to a night kickoff because a hurricane had roared through South Florida that weekend. The night before, the power went out in the team hotel and the players sat in the hallway with flashlights telling stories.
"That was my first start and how nervous and literally scared I was sitting in that locker room, feeling like I was going to throw up because I just didn't know what to do," Roethlisberger said.
He completed 12 of 22 in the rain and mud for 163 yards, threw his first touchdown and first interception. He would not lose a start until the AFC championship game that season, and he won all the rookie of the year awards. In his second season, he became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
Charlie Batch, his veteran backup who came to the team in 2002, believes that first season by Roethlisberger changed the minds of others in the NFL about playing rookie quarterbacks.
"With him doing that I think it set the bar for other rookie quarterbacks coming in," Batch said. "That allowed other organizations to say 'Pittsburgh did it, let's go out and throw our guy in there.' You have the classic example of the Jets and Mark Sanchez. And Atlanta [and Matt Ryan] last year."
The nearly six full seasons since that first start in Miami have covered a lot of ground for Roethlisberger, on and off the field. Only one ended in regulation, 2006, with this one threatening to end on Sunday.
"I was talking to Charlie the other day. To think I've known him for six years and been dong this now for six years, it's been a crazy roller-coaster."
Roethlisberger is a first alternate for the Pro Bowl and likely will be added to the roster if the Steelers are not involved in the playoffs because those from Super Bowl teams will not participate in the all-star game.
"To me, it's never about those awards," Roethlisberger said. "To me it's about winning games and championships. We'll try to get into the playoffs and see what we can do."
On another note, Hines Ward did not practice again today and it's possible he could miss his first game in two seasons. He has two hamstring injuries. Defensive end Brett Keisel (stinger) also did not practice. Troy Polamalu went through another limited practice and appears he will not play Sunday, missing his seventh straight game with a sprained PCL.
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