No sweat for Big Ben
By Mike Prisuta
Tuesday, August 2, 2005
For a brief stretch Monday afternoon at St. Vincent College, Ben Roethlisberger was a rookie again. And, for a moment or two, it was 2004 all over again.
The occasion was the Steelers' annual training camp-opening running and conditioning test, a grueling series of 40-yard dashes conducted at 30-second intervals designed to test commitment as well as endurance.
Roethlisberger had missed last year's festivities due to a four-day holdout.
There would be no escaping this year's fun in the sun, which turned out to be no sweat for Big Ben.
"Everyone hyped it up to be a big deal," Roethlisberger assessed. "It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be."
Perhaps Roethlisberger just made it look easy.
Running with Dedrick Roper, Larry Foote, Rian Wallace, Jerame Tuman, Brian St. Pierre and Greg Warren, Roethlisberger was calm, cool and collected enough to mock the media on the jog back to the goal line following his second-to-last heat.
On the final 40, a double-sprint out and back, Roethlisberger turned on the jets and then held off Roper's finishing kick to win the group by 5 yards.
The idea wasn't to make a statement, Roethlisberger maintained, only to have fun with his teammates.
Still, the symbolism of Roethlisberger once again setting the pace and leading the way was unmistakable.
He had done that throughout a rookie season for the ages, but had also stumbled perceptibly down the stretch.
The less-than-storybook finish gave credence to the theory that a sophomore swoon could be looming this season.
"All you guys think I'm going to have it, so I'm not going to," Roethlisberger responded to the assembled press afterward.
Another theory regarding what might be in store in Year Two of the Big Ben Era revolves around the quantum leap taken by Dan Marino (H.O.F., 2005) in his second season. Marino improved his TD passes from 20 to 48 and ended up with 31 more scoring strikes than interceptions after finishing plus 14 in that department as a rookie.
"I know what he did," Roethlisberger acknowledged, "but I also know how his career ended."
Once again, the message was difficult to misinterpret.
Roethlisberger considers Marino "a mentor and father to me," and the two speak regularly. They began forging a relationship at last summer's Mario Lemieux Celebrity Invitational, and Roethlisberger has respected and appreciated the chance to "hang out and pick his brain" ever since.
But Roethlisberger is also apparently aware Marino, despite his record-setting individual brilliance, never won a Super Bowl.
Roethlisberger hasn't, either, but as his second camp sprouts wings, he's clearly more determined to take another shot at one than he is to duplicate 15-1.
"We can still win a Super Bowl and not win 15 games," Roethlisberger allowed.
Secure in that knowledge, Big Ben is off and running.