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Inside the mind of Big Ben

QB isn't conventional, but it's why he's a winner

Posted: Monday June 12, 2006 9:54PM; Updated: Tuesday June 13, 2006 10:07AM
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Ben Roethlisberger has said that he prefers not to wear a helmet when riding his bike.
Ben Roethlisberger has said that he prefers not to wear a helmet when riding his bike.
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The sweet, ebullient sounds of Super Bowl triumph filled the bowels of Detroit's Ford Field as the Pittsburgh Steelers opened their doors to a steady stream of reporters. No champagne flows in NFL locker rooms, even after victory in the Ultimate Game, but there were enough tears and hugs and yelps and screams to give what normally serves as the Lions' den that unforgettable championship sheen.

There, in the middle of the room, was Dan Rooney, the Steelers' 73-year-old owner, accepting heartfelt handshakes for the franchise's record-tying fifth Super Bowl title. Off to the right stood a beaming Hines Ward, basking in the glow of his MVP performance. Across the room, Jerome Bettis headed happily to the showers for the final postgame soaking of his glorious career.

And there, just to the left of the front door, sat 24-year-old Ben Roethlisberger -- who had just become the youngest quarterback ever to lead his team to a Super Bowl championship -- looking like he'd just been asked to wash each of his teammates' jerseys by hand.

"Congratulations," I said.

He shook his head and grimaced, still dwelling on his unimpressive individual performance (he completed only 9 of 21 passes for 123 yards and two interceptions) in Pittsburgh's 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

"Eccch," was the only sound he made.

I thought about that strange scene on Monday after hearing the awful news about Roethlisberger's motorcycle crash in downtown Pittsburgh, one which reportedly resulted in a series of injuries (broken jaw, broken nose, lost teeth and head lacerations) that may or may not impact his team's attempt to defend its title. Hopefully, Roethlisberger will bounce back from this brutal accident in time for the regular-season opener on Sept. 7 against the Dolphins at Heinz Field and spend the rest of his glorious career warning fellow bikers of the dangers of riding without a helmet.

In the meantime, we should remember how little about Roethlisberger's short but eventful NFL journey has made sense -- the sight of him cruising down Second Avenue on a 2005 Suzuki Hayabusa being only the latest example.

Who would have thought that it would be Roethlisberger, the kid from Miami (Ohio), who would join Pittsburgh native Dan Marino as the only quarterbacks in the post-merger era to become an instant star?

And who could have imagined that the foundation for the kid's success would not be forged by meticulous preparation?

That's right -- Roethlisberger, at least at this stage of his career, is the anti-Peyton, a player who never met a scouting cassette that didn't make him want to start snoring.

I learned this firsthand on Jan. 31, five days before Super Bowl XL. I had driven to Pontiac, Mich., to hook up with Big Ben, who met me in the lobby of a Residence Inn across the street from the Steelers' hotel. It was evening, and Roethlisberger and his agent, Ryan Tollner, were about to hop into a limo and head downtown for a dinner function. He was loose and casual as the two of us entered a small conference room, and he almost laughed when I asked him, flat-out, "Do you think film is overrated?"

"I'm learning to watch it more," he said, "but I've always been a guy who believes there's only so much film work to be done. When it comes down to it, you have to play. It's not like the guy who watches the most film wins."

Now I was the one who almost laughed, picturing a certain Colts quarterback's facial contortions when he saw that quote. The fact that the Steelers had shocked Indy three weeks earlier en route to this unlikely destination was sure to drive Mr. Manning even more insane.

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