Big Ben or Big Baby?: The Enigma of Ben Roethlisberger

There are vicious allegations circulating around Pittsburgh that Ben Roethlisberger might just be a…

Gulp…

Wuss.

After sitting out Saturday’s preseason loss to the Washington Redskins with an Achilles tendon injury, Roethlisberger learned that even after winning two Super Bowl rings, he’s still not impervious to the disparagement of Pittsburgh fans.

Recently Updated11 It doesn’t matter if your name is Bubby or Ben. Steelers Nation always has something to say.

The talk radio circuit immediately questioned Roethlisberger’s toughness after all 345 pounds of Max Starks came crashing down on the quarterback’s foot during practice at St. Vincent’s last Thursday.

“It feels like a car ran over [my foot],” Roethlisberger told team president Art Rooney.

But many ‘Burghers weren’t buying Big Ben’s boo-boo, and the online message boards lit up with a wave of righteous indignation when it was announced that he would be sitting out the Steelers’ second preseason game.

 Recently Updated9-2

Take it easy, Pittsburghers. 345 pounds fell on Ben’s foot. You turn into Nancy Kerrigan every time you stub your toe on a bedpost. Whyyyyyyyy?

To be fair, Roethlisberger brought this all on himself.

After former head coach Bill Cowher resigned following the 2006 season, Roethlisberger publicly admitted the worst kept secret in the city: he and Cowher had a strained relationship. While they achieved so much together on the field, the pair could never seem to agree on the state of Roethlisberger’s health.

Roethlisberger somberly told reporters after the Steelers’ 2004 AFC Championship loss to the Patriots that he played the entire second half with two broken toes. But when the media asked Cowher to verify the claim, he just furrowed his brow, jutted out his chin and shook his head in irritation.

“Ben does not have broken toes,” Cowher fumed.

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Roethlisberger never followed up with team doctors about his tootsies, and walked out of Heinz Field that night without a noticeable limp. His toes may not have been broken, but undoubtedly his ego was bruised and his relationship with Cowher would never be the same.

The next season, when Roethlisberger became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl at the age of 23, phantom injuries came up again. Number 7 boasted to reporters at training camp that he played much of the 2005 season with a broken thumb, but no one in the organization, including Cowher, revealed any such injury.

And just this February, Ben added more mystique to an already legendary 78-yard Super Bowl-winning drive by telling Sports Illustrated that he played the entire game with two broken ribs.

One problem: the fractured ribs didn’t show up on team X-rays. According to Roethlisberger, they were revealed in a private MRI he had done a week after the Super Bowl. Either Conrad Murray had been moonlighting as the Steelers’ head physician, or Big Ben spends his nights sleeping in a hyperbolic chamber.  

So, is Big Ben really a big baby?

 Recently Updated6Hold the phone, grandma. Let’s take a deeper look at this.

Fact: Roethlisberger won the Super Bowl in 2008 behind a revolving door offensive line.

Fact: He has also taken more punishment in the pocket in the last three seasons than any other quarterback in the league.

Roethlisberger has averaged 46 sacks per season over the past three years. Compared to the league’s other top quarterbacks, that’s a staggering number. Peyton Manning averaged 17 sacks per season during the same period. Drew Brees averaged 16 sacks. Tom Brady averaged 23.5 sacks per season in 2006-2007 (injured in 2008).

Even Roethlisberger’s 38-year-old Super Bowl opponent, the notoriously immobile Kurt Warner, averaged just 23 sacks per season in his last two years as a starter.

It’s impossible to overstate how porous the Steelers’ offensive line was in 2008. For comparison, in the Steelers’ 2005 Super Bowl season, Roethlisberger was sacked only 23 times. He was dumped exactly double that in 2008. No other quarterback this decade has won a championship while facing that much pressure.

Only one quarterback even came close: Tom Brady, who led the overachieving Patriots to their first Super Bowl in 2001 despite being sacked 41 times.

 QBs

Despite taking more than double the abuse of his peers in recent years, Roethlisberger has missed only six games due to injury in his five NFL seasons. In that half-decade, he has amassed 51 regular season wins, a league record.

Playoffs? Do you want to talk about playoffs? Roethlisberger has lead the Steelers to eight playoff wins in his first five seasons, the second most in NFL history behind only – you guessed it – Tom Brady.

Sure, Roethlisberger has the best quarterback rating in Steelers history (89.4), but The Divine One is in the business of results, not statistics. He whines from time to time. Who cares? He wins. He could tell Bob Pompeani that he’s suffering from sciurphobia for all I care.

 Recently Updated5Sciurphobia? Fear of squirrels.

As the previously invoked Bill Cowher would say, at the end of the day, without Roethlisberger’s unique ability to avoid pressure in the pocket and bounce back from adversity, the Steelers would not have a championship to defend this season.

Off the field, Roethlisberger may have a penchant for exaggeration, but on the field, his grit and resiliency is unmatched. Despite his boyish flaws and haphazard, backyard football mechanics, if Roethlisberger can lead the Steelers to a repeat this season, he will go down in the history books with Tom Brady as one of the elite quarterbacks of his generation and…

Gulp…

One of the greatest of all-time.

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