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Old 07-31-2005, 12:29 AM   #1
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Default Smizik: Plenty of uncertainty surrounds Roethlisberger

Smizik: Plenty of uncertainty surrounds Roethlisberger
Sunday, July 31, 2005
By Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The largest question hovering over the Steelers' 2005 season is not: Can they duplicate their 15-1 record of 2004?

They can't.

Nor is it: Will his contractual situation cause Hines Ward to miss the entire season?

It won't.

No, the overriding question concerning the Steelers is: Do they have a quarterback who, despite games of absolute brilliance, remains a bit of a question mark?

They do.

Ben Roethlisberger became so big last season -- not just in Pittsburgh but across the country -- people tended to take their eye off his accomplishments. Big Ben could do no wrong. Not even when he performed like Little Ben.

He became more celebrity than quarterback, a role he seems to enjoy. He does not avoid the spotlight, even when his coach would prefer he do so.

If his role as celebrity is secure, his role as standout quarterback is less so. This is not to suggest he is doomed to second-season failure. It is to suggest there is reason to have doubts about whether he can duplicate -- or even come close to duplicating -- his success of 2004.

If any team should be wary of quarterback success turning sour, it's the Steelers. It has happened before to them -- recently and twice.

Had he the personality for it or if the public's infatuation with celebrity had been as great in the 1990s as it is today, Kordell Stewart's fame might have rivaled Roethlisberger's. Stewart caught the public fancy, nationally as well as locally, as Slash, the daring and athletic quarterback/receiver/running back in '95 and '96. When he took over as the starting quarterback in '97 and led the Steelers to the AFC title game, he was the toast of the town.

And then he was toast -- an indecisive, errant-throwing quarterback who was perceived as overseeing the downfall of the Steelers, who missed the playoffs in '98, '99 and 2000. His failure to live up to those first three seasons made him -- and this is not too strong a word -- hated by a small but sick segment of Steelers fans.

The emergence of Tommy Maddox, expected to be nothing more than a backup, as a daring and excellent passer was more surprising than Stewart's success. Given the chance to play in 2002 when coach Bill Cowher finally gave up on Stewart, Maddox was a sensation. His performance during the regular season was such that there was no thought of going back to Stewart, even after Stewart performed well when Maddox was hurt.

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