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Old 05-31-2007, 08:28 PM   #1
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Default AFTER THE FALL: Wiser Roethlisberger looks to return to form in 2007

I can't post the link because I don't have enough posts, but this is from - Michael Silver's column. Here's an excerpt:

Ben Roethlisberger and his father, Ken, were driving the quarterback's dogs to the vet the other day in Pittsburgh (supply your own Michael Vick joke here), and the subject turned to the tumult of 2006. They began listing everything the young passer had experienced over the past year -- the life-threatening motorcycle crash, the appendix that nearly burst, the rocky season, the departure of a coaching legend -- and it all felt so overwhelming.

"When you really think back on everything you went through," Ken told his son, "it was a lot of stuff."

That realization triggered a few seconds of contemplative silence from Big Ben, who was driving his new black pickup truck and, for you non-Libertarians who fret about such things, was indeed taking the necessary safety precautions.

"I was wearing my seat belt," he assured me last Sunday during a phone interview. "I even had a helmet and shoulder pads on."

Yes, he was joking about that last part, and that in and of itself is a good thing. As the NFL's youngest quarterback to have captured a Super Bowl tries to re-establish himself as one of the league's brightest young stars, add levity to the long list of attributes that can help him pull it off.

Last season, Roethlisberger was understandably a bit touchy about the gruesome crash that very nearly killed him -- and which, even as he underwent seven hours of surgery with injuries to his jaw, head, sinus cavity, knees and mouth, brought out an ample share of bad-taste yucksters and righteous critics blasting him for not having worn a helmet.

"It kind of sucked," he conceded. "They didn't even know if I was going to be all right, and a lot of people were all over me. They were making jokes about a guy that almost lost his life. I don't know how that's funny, but I guess that's the way it is.

"The good thing is that my friends and I are at the point now where we can laugh about the crash and the appendix and all that stuff. The other day, my buddy Brian tripped and hit his head, and he gets up and yells, 'Damn, I should've been wearing my helmet.' "

Last season, the competitor in Roethlisberger refused to concede that either the accident or his emergency appendectomy four days before Pittsburgh's season-opening victory over the Miami Dolphins (he returned 10 days after surgery and started the team's final 15 games) took a toll on his performance. His disappointing numbers included a 75.4 passer rating (down from 98.1 and 98.6 in his first two seasons), a league-high 23 interceptions and, most troubling to Big Ben, an 8-8 record that deprived the Steelers of a shot at defending their championship.

Now that he's somewhat removed from the turmoil, Roethlisberger realizes he had a great deal to overcome. And what excites him most about a potentially redemptive 2007 season is that, if all goes according to plan, he'll be asked to assume a greater share of responsibility than ever before. He'll make blocking adjustments at the line of scrimmage and get to show his improvisational flair, honed at Miami of Ohio, with the installation of the no-huddle offense. And he'll be coached by a man, 35-year-old rookie Mike Tomlin, whom he believes implicitly will trust him more than his former boss did.

Thrust into the starting lineup early in his rookie season after then-starter Tommy Maddox's injury, Roethlisberger, straight out of the MAC, accomplished more than any rookie quarterback since Dan Marino 21 years earlier. But even as Big Ben helped guide Pittsburgh to a 15-1 record and an AFC Championship game appearance -- and, in '05, followed up with the team's first Super Bowl victory in 26 years -- he felt he was treated like a little kid by Steelers coach Bill Cowher.

To be fair, it could be argued that Cowher's approach was somewhat merited: Roethlisberger struggled to learn the offense as a rookie, incessantly glancing down at the cheat sheet on his wristband during games and sometimes calling phantom plays in the huddle. His supreme self-confidence was not matched by a commensurate zest for film study, as he admitted to me shortly before Super Bowl XL.

That Cowher had lectured his quarterback about the need to wear a motorcycle helmet long before the horrific crash only reinforced the notion that Roethlisberger was the petulant teenager to The Chin's grumpy dad.

Cowher resigned in January after 15 seasons as Pittsburgh's head coach, and three months later Roethlisberger made some mildly critical comments about his former boss, telling reporters their "relationship wasn't great." In our conversation Sunday he clarified his earlier remarks, saying, "It wasn't the fact that I disliked Cowher. I like Cowher a lot, and I think he respected me. It's just that he'd been there so long, and I was kind of the young kid -- and that's how I was treated.

"I was always going to be that young guy to Cowher. I mean, think about it: He was in the league longer than I was alive. So of course he saw me as someone who needed to be treated that way."

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