Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had an emergency appendectomy today and will miss the season opener Thursday against the Miami Dolphins.
Roethlisberger was absent when the Steelers took the practice field at 3:30 p.m. today and team officials said later that he had emergency abdominal surgery to remove his appendix.
Roethlisberger will be out at least a week. Backup quarterback Charlie Batch will start against the Dolphins.
"The surgery went well," head coach Bill Cowher said. "He is obviously going to be out this week and we will go week to week from there."
Roethlisberger had the emergency appendectomy after becoming ill before practice. It is the quarterback's third operation in 10 months and second in 2 1/2 months.
Batch, the former Lions starter who was 2-0 as a fill-in last season when Roethlisberger hurt his knee, will start against the Dolphins in the NFL's first game of the season.
"This is why Charlie is here. Charlie will be fine," Cowher said. "It's a situation that can happen to any football team. You can go out there and have a starter go down, whether it's an ankle or something else of that nature. That's the nature of the business."
The appendix attack is yet another medical setback for Roethlisberger, who nearly died in a June 12 motorcycle accident. After a remarkably fast recovery he missed no practice time during training camp and played better in the preseason than he did a year ago before leading the Steelers to their first Super Bowl victory in 26 years.
It was not known if the motorcycle accident might have caused any internal damage that subsequently resulted in the appendix attack. All of Roethlisberger's known injuries from the crash -- a broken nose, orbital bones and upper and lower jaw, damaged teeth and a concussion -- were to his head.
According to various medical journals, one cause of appendicitis can be a perforation in the appendix.
The Steelers were to begin the season with only two quarterbacks, Roethlisberger and Batch, plus rookie Omar Jacobs on their practice squad. But Cowher said they would bring in another quarterback this week.
One possibility might be former starter Tommy Maddox, who knows the Steelers' system better than any other quarterback they could bring in on short notice. But Maddox played poorly while losing two starts when Roethlisberger was out last season.
Unhappy at being cut after the season ended, Maddox was the only Steelers player who did not attend a White House ceremony honoring the Super Bowl champions this summer.
"We will assess the backup (situation) as the week goes on. This is the situation we are being dealt and we are not asking for any pity nor are we going to make any excuses," Cowher said. "We are going to get ready for Miami accordingly."
Roethlisberger is the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, doing so at age 23 as the Steelers beat Seattle 21-10 on Feb. 5. He is off to one of the best starts of any NFL quarterback in history, leading the Steelers to a 27-4 record in his 31 starts and to two AFC championship games and one Super Bowl in two seasons.
The Steelers made the playoffs last season even with Roethlisberger sitting out one-quarter of their schedule, and Cowher said they will overcome this latest setback.
"Adversity is not what knocks you down, it is how you handle it and how you respond to it," Cowher said. "This football team with its veterans has been down this road before, facing challenges and adversity."
Alan Robinson of the Associated Press contributed to this report. More details in tomorrow's Post-Gazette.