New man, older body: the Steelers' Big Ben at 30
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Steelers fans know by now their quarterback will become a father this year. Ben Roethlisberger revealed the news on his website in June.
What he did not divulge, and still has not, is when his baby boy is due. The delivery is expected sometime this fall, perhaps even on the first Sunday of December when the Steelers visit Baltimore.Surely, for such a potentially crucial late-season game against the Ravens, Roethlisberger will ...
"I'm not missing the birth of my child," Roethlisberger said emphatically. "There's no chance. I know some fans probably don't want to hear that, but there's no chance."
No, the fans likely do not want to hear that, but him saying it shows how far he has traveled as he enters his ninth pro season. He not only makes the transition from Big Ben to Big Dad, but he also discovered an ability to put his life into perspective. There was a time, fans might recall, when he was not so good at doing that. And if he misses a game for the birth of his son? You might remember him missing four games a few years ago for not-so-noble reasons.
"We'll do everything we can to make sure it doesn't happen," Roethlisberger said of trying to avoid a game-day birth.
But if that's not enough? Oh, well, Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch will just have to take care of business that day. This is not your 2010 Big Ben. He's 30. He's married. He has a college degree. He'll be a dad. He's different.
"It's exciting,'' Roethlisberger said of impending fatherhood. "There's a lot of things you don't think about. It's kind of like when you're younger and you want to play quarterback in the NFL, all you think about is playing quarterback, you don't think about the interviews and the little things you have to do. It's kind of the same thing.
"When you're going to be a father, all you think about is having this little baby, you don't think about the registry, the room, the diapers, all the little things that go along with it. It's exciting and it is a little bit scary, too. It is. Before long, you're going to have this little life that you're taking care of. But I've heard nothing but great things from people [about] just how it will change your life. I'm just so excited for that challenge."
There also is the matter of turning 30 and the psychology -- not to mention physiology -- that goes with it. It is not a number most athletes enjoy because, while it often means they are at peak performance in their careers, it also signals the downside is not far off. Many athletes flourish after they hit 30 -- linebacker James Harrison among them with the Steelers. Many wash out soon thereafter.
"I can't really say the day I turned 30 it took me a little longer to get out of bed," Roethlisberger said, "but every year it does."
Roethlisberger has been sacked 350 times, not counting the preseason. He has run another 350 times from scrimmage. He has been hit and decked countless other times after throwing the football. He has broken many bones, from nose to toes (plus a thumb and a foot and, we think, a rib or two), had a concussion, a high ankle sprain, a torn knee ligament, lost his appendix, and there's still that "little torn rotator cuff" in his right shoulder. He could have died in a motorcycle accident that left him with a broken jaw and sinus cavity, a nine-inch cut on the back of his head and fewer teeth. Lately, he bounces up quicker from his sacks than he does his sack at home.
"It takes you a little bit longer to get out of bed," Roethlisberger said. "You get up, everything kind of cracks and pops first. I can't just get right out of the car and go and play golf, actually I have to hit a couple balls first now. It's just getting old. Just everything, you have to kind of get going now. I think that's just natural."
So, 30 is a big deal for him or not?
"Yes and no. I look at it as, OK, this is my ninth year, which is a blessing in itself for a football player, especially a quarterback. How much longer will I play? I don't know, no one knows that except the man upstairs."
It is Ben Roethlisberger's ninth season. Ninth? It was just yesterday he was the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
"A part of me says, OK, usually a good number you think about is 13, 14 seasons. I think that's a good, long number. Obviously, you get those 19s, 20s, so in that sense you sit there and say, OK, another five or six years. 'Boy I'm in the, quote-unquote, back end of my career.' "
But then he thinks of his boyhood idol, another No. 7, who did not win a Super Bowl until he turned 38. John Elway finished with a flourish, winning two, and then he retired.
"In that sense, it's like 'Wow, OK, I may be seeing the finish line way, way down there, hopefully.' "
And there's another positive thought ... "Maybe now it's time you start playing your best ball."
For the record: "I feel great. When I'm on the field, I feel great mentally, I feel sharp, I don't feel I've lost any of my arm strength, I don't feel I've lost any of my movement. I feel sharper than ever.
"Just because you're getting quote-unquote 'older,' you're getting late in your career, doesn't mean that your play has to diminish."
He has been Elway-like in his swashbuckling attitude at the position; if he cannot find an open receiver, he will run around until one gets open. Steelers president Art Rooney II, noting Ben's birthday this year, offered in January that it may be time for him not to run around as much, to take better care of his 30-year-old body so maybe that career can be extended. New coordinator Todd Haley has been drumming that into him. Roethlisberger agrees, to a point.
"Elway didn't move around a lot late -- but he did just enough. That's kind of the philosophy I figure I may have to take. Every year, you have to do what you have to do. I may not be running every single play, getting out of the pocket, but, you know what, sometimes you're going to have to get out of the pocket, get down. I may not be running anybody over as I get older, but get down and do the things you have to do to win."
So, how's that relationship with his new coordinator? Roethlisberger and former coordinator Bruce Arians, who was let go, were close. Things seemed to get off to a frosty start soon after Haley was hired, and days passed before the new coach talked to his quarterback. Haley has a reputation of getting under the skin of some of his players, but so far things have gone well between him and Roethlisberger. Of course, things really don't count until they start playing for real Sunday night in Denver.
"Obviously, things got blown up early on," Roethlisberger said of the reaction to the early and brief silence between the two. "It really has been good, it's been a good ebb and flow, talking, changing things. He's been open to hearing some change; I've been open to changes from him. So, it's been really good. Every day we learn something new about either each other, the relationship, the offense, something. We take it, we run with it and we're not looking back."
Roethlisberger paused before answering if he likes the new offense.
"Ahhhh, yeah. I think it gives us great opportunities to use the weapons we have. Whatever system I was in, whether it was [Ken Whisenhunt's] or Bruce's, this training camp, the point of it is to put almost everything you possibly can put in. Then, once you get week to week [during the season] everything is different. Once we start getting week to week, we'll see how the game-planning starts going, the play-calling in the game."
But Rooney and Tomlin did not change coordinators so the offense would get worse. It should improve. Roethlisberger should improve as he heads into his prime, too. At age 30, this should be his best season.
"I mean, I hope so," said the quarterback whose goal is to have more rings than Terry Bradshaw. "I would say yes. The only part that makes me a little nervous to right away say yes is because it's new stuff. If coach Haley had come in and kind of kept a lot of the stuff that was kind of familiar, then I would be like, yeah, we'll just keep the ball rolling.
"I did have to take a quick step back because you're learning some new things. But, as we're learning, now you say OK, the train is starting to go again. The train can't just go 0 to 60, the wheels have to start moving and then moving real fast."
Provided they do not come off.
First Published September 6, 2012 12:00 am