Big Ben on verge of joining elite fraternity
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Countless quarterbacks have passed through the NFL turnstiles and not once had a chance to play in the Super Bowl. There are also several who have reached the brightest stage in North American sports, only to have their dreams fall short of the ultimate prize.
For those fortunate enough to be crowned a Super Bowl champion, they'll always have a special place in the history of the sport.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is one of the very few to have the privilege of wearing multiple rings -- two to be exact -- and can join a notable list of three-time Super Bowl winning quarterbacks with a victory over the Green Bay Packers Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium. Former Steelers signal-caller Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman and Tom Brady have previously etched their name in history with three titles, and Roethlisberger hopes to be the next to ingrain his name among the elite in Super Bowl XLV.
Roethlisberger took the high road when asked about the possibility of joining the other quarterbacks on the list.
"I'm not thinking about winning one yet, I'm thinking about the preparation," Roethlisberger recently said. "This is a great defense we're facing."
He did later remark that it would mean a lot to win another Super Bowl, but would be more happy to see other teammates who have yet to be a part of football immortality. Some advice he shared for newcomers such as offensive tackle Flozell Adams, a 13-year veteran who'll be playing in his first Super Bowl, would be to "treat it like a normal week", because though the work will be the same, it won't feel as such with all the hype that surrounds this special event.
"I want to win one for him as much as I do myself," said Roethlisberger of the ex-Cowboy Adams.
The success Roethlisberger has achieved by the ripe age of 28 is inspiring. But has the seventh-year pro been just the product of an outstanding system in Pittsburgh, or is he just that good?
It's a handful of both, since many quarterbacks that carried even more clout in the college ranks fizzled faster than a hot plate at Applebee's. Take Tim Couch, David Carr and Brady Quinn as examples of quarterbacks who reigned over the masses in college, but had NFL careers that weren't nearly as glamorous. Then again, that troika of quarterbacks never had a strong running back like Jerome Bettis, who helped Roethlisberger on his way to stardom in Super Bowl XL five years ago, as well as a fortified defense.
It's no accident the Steelers have been consistent with Roethlisberger under center, though, as adding a franchise quarterback to an already-established team never hurts. Just ask Brady, who has been to four Super Bowls in his already-legendary career.
One of four quarterbacks to go in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft -- along with Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and J.P. Losman -- Roethlisberger is a leader of a Pittsburgh team that is just one of three to represent the AFC in the past seven Super Bowls, joining New England and Indianapolis -- two teams that have also had strong defenses and superstar quarterbacks.
It can be argued that Brady, Manning and Roethlisberger were lucky not to be drafted by a team from the NFC, which has displayed more parity in recent years. The last NFC team to reach back-to-back Super Bowls was Green Bay in 1996-1997. Perhaps there wouldn't so much balance, however, if one of three top quarterbacks in the AFC played in the other conference.
Roethlisberger's M. O. is being able to improvise and make plays happen when the pocket collapses around him. His strong arm is often not as deadly as his powerful legs, which he uses to his advantage every time a defender breaks free with a clear shot. Often times "Big Ben" appears to be dead to rights in the backfield, but somehow finds a way to escape from trouble and find the open target. Simply put, defenses must not take Roethlisberger for granted, no matter how much protection and favoritism quarterbacks may receive from the officials.
Packers All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews would agree. He played against Roethlisberger in a 37-36 Green Bay loss in Pittsburgh in December of the 2009 season.
"From last year, taking him down personally, you see quarterbacks who sometimes go down easily, and you can bring him down," Matthews said. "But he's one of those guys who will fight and gets out of a lot of sacks, and the sacks that he does give up, he's still standing."
Roethlisberger also stood tall after dealing with persistent offseason distractions regarding allegations that he sexually assaulted a 20-year-old woman at a Georgia nightclub this past March. The following month, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed down a six-game suspension without pay for violating the league's personal conduct policy, even though Roethlisberger wasn't arrested and charges weren't formally filed. In addition, Roethlisberger was forced to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation as part of the suspension, which was eventually reduced to four games.
Being labeled public enemy No. 1 weighed heavily on Roethlisberger's mind and affected relationships with family and friends. When asked to reflect on the situation, he simply shifted focus to the team.
"We've gone through a lot as a team and I think we stuck together, which is why I love playing for this organization," said Roethlisberger, who watched the Steelers go 3-1 without him in the lineup. "We're a resilient team and so I enjoy playing for this team, this organization, the Rooneys [the Steelers' owners] and putting that Steeler jersey on."
One player who may not put on that black and gold jersey for the Super Bowl is rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, who went down in the team's AFC Championship win over the New York Jets with a high left ankle sprain. Though nothing has yet been made official by the Steelers, the first-round draft pick out of Florida doesn't seem likely to suit up.
Doug Legursky is expected to start in place of Pouncey and came in as a relief aid in the AFC Championship, but fumbled a snap which resulted in a Jets' safety and a short breath of life for the visiting team.
Roethlisberger still praised Legursky for how well the backup played in place of Pouncey, a Pro-Bowl selection in his first season, and also stated his faith in an offensive line that gave him enough time to throw for 3,200 yards and 17 touchdowns and record a passer rating of 97.0 in 12 regular-season games. His five interceptions were the lowest in his career as well.
Big Ben didn't have a pretty game against the Jets, throwing for just 133 yards with a pair of picks and no touchdown passes, but a big effort from running back Rashard Mendenhall and Pittsburgh's stout stop unit helped pick up the slack.
Roethlisberger needed all the help he could get in Super Bowl XL, when he completed only nine of his 21 pass attempts for 123 yards and two interceptions, but also ran for a score. He picked up his play three years later in Super Bowl XLIII, however, compiling 256 passing yards and delivering a timely and precise scoring strike to Santonio Holmes for the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left.
That outstanding performance solidified Roethlisberger's place in history among the Steelers, owners of a 6-1 record on Super Bowl Sunday. He is appreciative of that honor and hopes to pull within one ring of Bradshaw, who's only one of two quarterbacks to win the Big Game four times, along with Montana.
"This is the Super Bowl. This is what you dream about as a kid," Roethlisberger quipped. "I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity just to represent the city of Pittsburgh and the Steelers in the Super Bowl.