Findlay's coaches had noticed too. Roethlisberger was the jayvee quarterback as a freshman and sophomore, and he earned the varsity job in his senior year. After he tossed six touchdown passes in his debut, against Elida High, Hoeppner hurriedly offered him a scholarship. By the time Ohio State called the following month it was too late.
"The relationship between Ben and Terry was like father-son," says Shane Montgomery, an assistant under Hoeppner at Miami and now the RedHawks' coach. "Actually, it was beyond father-son." When Roethlisberger left Miami for the NFL after his junior season, Hoeppner accompanied him to the draft ceremony in New York City. After Roethlisberger joined the Steelers, he would call Hoeppner on the Friday before every game. And when Roethlisberger crashed his motorcycle on June 12, 2006, Hoeppner drove from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh and camped out in the quarterback's room at Mercy Hospital.
By then Hoeppner was the coach at Indiana. Six months earlier doctors had removed a tumor from his right temple, but he'd been back on the field for spring practice. If he could recover, so could his old quarterback. "You are going to be O.K.," Hoeppner told Roethlisberger in the hospital room. "You are going to be great."
They both spent the fall of 2006 shuttling from football fields to doctors' offices. Roethlisberger had the appendectomy in September and suffered the concussion in October. Hoeppner's second brain tumor was diagnosed in September, and he had another operation shortly thereafter. He returned to the Hoosiers' sideline two weeks later. Both men finished out their seasons, neither too successfully: Roethlisberger had a career-low 75.4 passer rating as the Steelers went 8--8 and missed the playoffs; Hoeppner's Hoosiers finished 5--7, and Indiana failed to make a bowl game for the 13th straight season.
Roethlisberger, fully mended, participated in the Steelers' minicamp last May and took a trip to the West Coast in early June. He was in L.A. when Hoeppner, 59, slipped into a coma. Doctors told the Hoeppners to call everyone in the family. Terry's son, Drew, called Roethlisberger.
The quarterback chartered a flight from Los Angeles to Bloomington, Ind., and drove to the hospital. He sat by Hoeppner's bedside, just as Hoeppner had sat by his the previous summer. "It was so right that he was there," says Hoeppner's wife, Jane. "It was so comforting."
Less than a week later, on June 19, Hoeppner died. Roethlisberger, back in Pittsburgh by then, chartered another flight to Bloomington, this time for the memorial service. Several of his former Miami teammates were in Pittsburgh and hitched a ride on his plane to pay their respects to Hoeppner. "That flight was a chance for all of us to be together and reminisce about Coach Hep," says Martin Nance, a former RedHawks receiver now on the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad. "I'll always appreciate that Ben gave us that experience."
Roethlisberger does not believe he will ever relate to another coach the way he did to Hoeppner. Who else would trust him so implicitly? Who else would support him so thoroughly? Who else would have given him a scholarship based on one game?
BRUCE ARIANS does not give out scholarships, but he does deal in trust and support. For the past three years he was the Steelers' receivers coach, which meant he usually studied Roethlisberger from 20 yards away. But when the Steelers hired Tomlin to succeed Bill Cowher as coach last January, Arians was promoted to offensive coordinator. He was charged with spreading the field, incorporating the tight ends—and playing a little golf with Roethlisberger on the side.
One day in May, Arians and Roethlisberger were coming off the 7th green at Treesdale Golf & Country Club in Gibsonia, Pa., discussing formations, when the coach stopped talking about pieces of the puzzle and drew the big picture. "I want you to know something," he said. "This is not my offense. From now on this is your offense."