Cover Story: Ben Roethlisberger worries about winning his next game and not about his legacy
Fort Worth, Texas -- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wears No. 7 because it was John Elway's number. He grew up a San Francisco 49ers fan in Findlay, Ohio, because of his admiration for Joe Montana.
No quarterback has played in more Super Bowls than Elway. None have won more than Montana.
If anybody knows what is at stake tonight at Cowboys Stadium, it is Roethlisberger. He is playing for his third Super Bowl ring -- a milestone that would put him between childhood heroes Elway (two) and Montana (four) in Super Bowl victories and cement his legacy as one of the all-time greats.
"He wins this one, and he's about to go down in the books," said Steelers left guard Chris Kemoeatu.
But Roethlisberger, 28, would rather not think about his place in history.
"It is kind of a tough thing to comment on because legacies are usually something that are asked [about] when you're done," Roethlisberger said. "I think you can always build toward your legacy and what you want it to be. Just trying to win football games and championships is what I'm trying to do now."
The comparisons, though, are hard to avoid.
Montana believes Roethlisberger already has sealed his place as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
"Everybody's talking about, 'Do you think he's going to make the Hall of Fame?' " Montana said. "He's already accomplished more than a lot of the guys that are in the Hall of Fame."
Winning two Super Bowls does not guarantee a quarterback a spot in Canton -- just ask Oakland Raiders great Jim Plunkett, the only multiple Super Bowl winner who has not been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Winning three or more does, apparently.
Montana; Terry Bradshaw, the only other quarterback to win four; and Troy Aikman are in the Hall of Fame, and few doubt New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will join them.
Roethlisberger said he is more concerned with winning games than being mentioned as an elite quarterback, and teammate and close friend Byron Leftwich said the sentiment is genuine.
"You can ask a lot of quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame and all around what they would do for two rings, and he has the opportunity to win three," Leftwich, the Steelers' backup quarterback, said.
Montana said he rarely thought about his historical standing as a player.
"You don't think about it," he said. "You think about playing. You don't think about what's going to happen to you. You're only thinking about the game that's at hand, the season that's at hand. That will all take care of itself."
While he might not be thinking about it, Roethlisberger is playing for more than historical relevance. He is playing for recognition among his peers.
Sports commentators often exclude Roethlisberger's name from their list of current elite quarterbacks. Many consider Brady and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning in a class of their own. Former Steelers safety Rod Woodson did not include Roethlisberger in a recent listing of his top five active quarterbacks.
"Maybe he will never get the credit he deserves because he's not a pretty football player," Leftwich said, a nod to Roethlisberger's gritty style.
Even Roethlisberger lists Brady, Manning and his counterpart today, Aaron Rodgers, ahead of him as the top quarterbacks currently playing the game.
"Maybe it's my way of keeping me as the underdog," Roethlisberger said. "It drives coach [Mike] Tomlin crazy because he wants me to put myself in that category, but, I don't know. I guess I like being the hunter, not the hunted."
Whatever the method, it seems to work.
He will make his 111th career start tonight and has won more than 70 percent of them. He has completed 62.9 percent of his career passes -- a mark that surpasses, among others, Bradshaw (51.9 percent), Aikman (61.5) and Elway (56.9).
Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said quarterbacks always will be compared to peers and predecessors because fans fawn over the heroic nature of the position.
Few talk about Hines Ward's all-time legacy, though the veteran wideout stands to join Hall of Fame receivers Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin as a three-time Super Bowl winner.
Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle-El, who played quarterback in college at Indiana, said the historical comparisons are unavoidable as a quarterback.
"They're the leader. They're the signal-caller. They are what runs the engine," he said. "You can have a great center, a great offensive line. You can have great wide receivers and a running back. But, if you don't have a quarterback, you don't have a chance."
Ward does not play in Lynn Swann's shadow, while Roethlisberger will always be compared to Bradshaw.
"Terry is a guy when I got to the Steelers, you know about him," Roethlisberger said. "When you get here, it's about four Super Bowls and about him being the man, so you know, I've always said since day one, I'm not trying to be Terry Bradshaw, I'm just trying to be me and trying to win like he did."
But Bradshaw said he hopes Roethlisberger eventually overtakes a lot of his own records.
"I said 'I've got your back,' " Bradshaw said. " 'I'm here for you. I want you to break my records. I want you to win more Super Bowls than anybody.' "
A victory against Green Bay would bring Roethlisberger closer to that feat. Just don't mention it to him.
"I hate sitting there answering those questions because it's assuming we win, you know?" Roethlisberger said. "I hope we win, I'm going to do everything I can to win it, you just never know. That's why I don't want to think about that yet.
"Maybe that's a good question if we win, and I'm sitting at the podium."
First Published February 6, 2011 12:00 am